I try not to rely to much on statistics, but here is one that caught my eye: fewer and fewer teenagers are getting drivers licenses. In the late 1980's, about half of 16 year olds got a drivers license. That number is now less than 30%. There are several reasons for this decline. One reason is that mortality rate among teen drivers is very high, and parents are waiting until their teens are mature enough to handle a car. I applaud the parents because driving is a privilege, not a right. Another reason is the population shift of American society edging away from the rural suburban areas and back into more metropolitan cities. In these metro areas driving is less of a necessity due to readily available public transit options.
However, aside from the occasional weary parent and the lack of need for personal transportation, modern day teens by in large do not want to get their drivers license. Why this decreased interest? For the past half century, a drivers license has been a person's ticket to individualism and freedom. I grew up in a very rural part of the world, living miles from the closest store or neighbors house. There was no way I was going to attempt to ride my bike or walk to a friend's house to spend an afternoon. I was trapped in my island, and my only boat off was a ride provided by my parents. That all changed the day I got my license. I was finally free to go where I wanted and when I wanted. It was more than just a convenience; it changed my whole social structure. I could finally connect with my world.
Modern day teens do not have the same limitations that I did. With the advent of social networking and most notably the smart cell phone, teens are able to have a social life without ever actually leaving their home to meet anyone. I got my first cell phone when I was 17 almost 18, and it didn't even have a color screen. Forget about actually having reception out in the boon docks where I lived. My phone wasn't a way for me to be socially active. If I wanted to have a social event with friends I had to drive and meet them. That is why I believe the smart phone has now replaced a car as the first step into adulthood. Smart phones are expensive for one. My current cell phone costs new about the same amount that my first car did. Some teens even pay the higher fees that smart phones demand instead of their parents floating the bill. These traits teach young people responsibilities that I learned by taking care of my first car and paying for my own gas.
I am not trying to say smart phones are bad; I simply want we as car enthusiasts to be more responsible for teaching the next generation about cars. No generation before us has had to take on a task like this. When one car guy generation started to die off another one quickly followed in this country. I myself took a 16 year old driving this weekend to show tips and tricks on driving her manual transmission truck. I was immensely proud of her knowledge on when to change gears by listening to her vehicle. I tried to show her more about not just listening but feeling when the clutch was engaging and disengaging to better regulate her take offs from a stand still. If we want automakers to continue to make driver focused cars in the future, then we must train the future generation to understand what a driver focused car feels like. So I encourage the whole automotive culture out there to attack this issue. Go out and teach someone how to drive, give them feed back, and most of all encouragement on their driver skills.