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Studies Say Teens Not Keen to Drive: What Gives?

Posted by Monica Foley

Believe it or not, according to recent studies, the entire nation is experiencing a decline in teenagers applying for driver’s licenses. While 80% of 18-year-olds obtained their licenses in the 1980s, even before the Great Recession began in 2008, that number had dropped to 65%. Multiple theories abound as to why teens consider obtaining a driver’s license a lower priority today.

On our 1-on-1 Coaching Service, I have been hearing quite frequently from parents that their teenage children are not interested in getting a driver’s license. I’ve been extremely perplexed by this, particularly because my experience as a teenager was vastly different.

For those of us who grew up before the digital age, remember when we had to actually pick up the phone to communicate or drive to see someone? When I was 16, cell phones weren’t available and the internet wasn’t yet fully launched. Any type of social interaction took place in person, through letters, or via a landline phone. In fact, my twin sister and I connected with friends over the phone so frequently that my parents decided to install an additional line. We couldn’t wait to get our driver’s license, which would enable us more freedom to go where we wanted without the hassle of asking for a ride. Plus, getting dropped off somewhere by our parents at this point was well, just embarrassing.  In anticipation of getting my driver’s license, I reserved every Saturday morning for driving practice. It was not uncommon to spend hours perfecting my parallel parking skills using orange cones in the driveway. The day I passed the licensing exam, my parents bought an extremely unattractive but safe 1984 Ford Tempo for our use. Although my sister and I didn’t love the color or model, we were thrilled to have a vehicle of our own.

So just why are teens shying away from driving? I decided to look into the reason behind this phenomenon.

Through my research, I learned that:

* Extensive access to social media significantly reduces the need for modern teens to actually communicate in person. In other words, why drive when you can text, tweet, Skype, Instagram, or Facebook each other? – Education4Drivers

* Technology has also reduced the need for teens to leave the house for shopping or entertainment (music, movies, clothes, books, etc.). Remember having to drive to the mall to get a CD for that “one” song you loved so much? – LA Times

* The state of the economy has led to fewer job opportunities for teens. Adults who are laid off are now taking positions that teens would typically fill. Vehicles are thus becoming a luxury that teenagers can no longer afford. Additionally, the cost of attending driver’s education classes has increased — and I am sure you are already aware of the skyrocketing gas prices. – Forbes

* Get ready for this one:  Driving cramps teens’ social lives. Some states, such as California, have strict rules about driving. Licensed drivers younger than 18 cannot drive with friends unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. They also cannot drive from 11 pm to 5 am. Can you blame California teenagers for not being in a rush? – LA Times

* Teens are relying more on parents for transportation and many families are willing to continue to provide it. Some of us may remember when our parents couldn’t wait for us to get our license so they could experience more freedom themselves! – Forbes

* Driving is a bigger responsibility than teens are willing to take on. Many kids say they just aren’t ready. – Naperville Sun-Times

* Teens are much more environmentally conscious than most of us probably were as kids. Greater concerns about protecting the environment are leading many to seek out other modes of transportation where available — bikes, skateboards, trains and buses are often preferable to teens. – Naperville Sun-Times

A recent survey conducted by Zipcar, a rental company, revealed that 65 percent of people ages 18 to 34 would choose to go without their car over their cell phone or computer. For some of us, myself included, this might be hard to imagine. How about you?

PS For the record, I parallel parked like a champ the day of my exam but haven’t done it since. I think it’s time to get those cones out again!

How are your teenagers responding to the idea of obtaining their driver’s license, and how do you feel about it? Are you willing to provide transportation for your children until they leave your home as adults?

Monica Reed has worked with children with emotional disabilities and their families for over 15 years in homes, schools, and mental health settings. She is an identical twin, a stepmother to triplets, and has two loving dogs. Monica has a Masters in School Counseling.

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