Friday, April 6, 2012

No Longer a Rite of Passage

I remember getting my driver's license. The bitchy lady at the DPS (she is legendary in my hometown) gave me the two page test, which I promptly failed. Apparently, she liked me. She then coached me through the test and voila! I was a licensed driver. Freedom! go anywhere by myself between the hours of 6 and 10. I got my license right around the time lawmakers in Austin thought perhaps it wasn't a good idea for teenagers to be distracted while driving.

Getting a driver's license was almost mandatory in my small town. There is no bus system, maybe two taxis, and bicycles were practically nonexistent. You have a car or live by begging rides, and in a town where almost everyone else has a license, its hard being THAT person, you know, the one who is a bother asking for rides. I lived about 10 miles outside of town, so I had to be schlepped everywhere  by my parents. Once I had my license, all that dependency was gone.

Apparently that experience is becoming less common. According to this article, fewer Americans teenagers are getting their license.  Experts are pointing to increased social media usage as the reason for fewer face to face interactions, and therefore, the need to leave your home. However, I find that hard to believe. Maybe I'm a little too old for this, but I just can't see that filling the need for human contact and interaction. I believe it plays a role, but not to the extent they say in the article. More likely teenagers simply can't/won't take on the cost of a car or they live in cities with good public transportation. I think there could be some ancillary reasons that weren't really discussed in the article.

1. Cars have lost some of their cachet.  Compared to the 50s and 60s, the cars of today are very utilitarian, mpg here and fuel efficiency that, the culture doesn't embrace them in the same way. Cars are just less sexy than they were a couple of decades ago. When I was in high school, people would cruise up and down the strip on the weekend, just for something to do. With gas at 4 dollars a gallon, anyone doing that would look like a fool. Or a douche.

2. Greenwashing. Maybe some of that environmental message has come through.

3. Car companies. Perhaps the automobile industry needs to do a little PR with the group that was greatly affected by the Great Recession.

Whatever the reasons, and it sounds there still needs to be some research done on this issue, it is a boon to alternative transportation advocates. When I first moved to Austin, I remember many of the country bumpkins, myself included, were afraid of Capmetro. Hippies! Homeless people! Now? Couldn't love it more as a tool to help me get around town. Cycling? All those UT kids made it look easy! ( I did not go to UT, but rather St. Ed's, where we through a shit fit when they wanted to start charging for the garage.)  Once I got a taste of being less reliant on my car, there is no way I'd want to live like that again.

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