top of page
  • Robert Farago

Teens - I Won't Drive 55!

Why today's teens don't want a driver's license

When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to drive. A car represented freedom. Freedom to explore new worlds. New civilizations. To boldly go where I’d never gone before! For today’s teens, that’s no longer a thing…

The number of teenagers getting a license has been dropping like a stone, especially among 16-year-olds. In 1983, fully fifty percent of 16-year-olds had a driver’s license. In 2018, the percentage of 16-year-olds licensing-up sank to twenty-five percent.

A lot of factors are driving this dramatic decline.

Ride Sharing Apps Uber Alles

From a teen’s point-of-view, Uber and its ilk provide maximum freedom. The freedom to get fucked-up. And they don’t have to worry about parking. Or a friend puking his guts out in the back. Or explaining accidents to their parents.

Uber is quick, easy-to-use, clean and cheap, compared to owning, insuring, fueling, servicing and modifying a car. From a historical perspective…

When Gen Z parents were young, society launched a holy war on drunk driving. Concertinaed death cars parked on high school front lawns. Horrific Mothers Against Drunk Driving commercials. Stiffened DUI penalties. Not to mention friends dying.

That shit hit home.

It was a short journey from “don’t drive drunk” to “friends don’t let friends drive drunk” to “my kid doesn’t drive.”

With no-child-left-behind geo-tagged smart phones, with ride hailing apps not hiring scum-of-the-earth Taxi Driver types, parents rightly see Uber Et. al as the best alternative to teen driving. Or parental limo service.

Money Honey

The average used car currently costs $30,717. A 2022 study by the Insurance Information Institute pegs the average annual cost of car insurance for a 16-year-old driver at $345.44 per month. The average teen driver spends, on average, $200 to $300 per month on gas.

Without considering any extras – service, consumables (oil, tires etc.), parking, speeding and traffic tickets – owning a car costs a teen $550 to $650 a month. Not to mention the one-time costs of driver’s ed, licensing and paying for the car.

What teen who isn’t running crack for a street gang makes that kind of money?

Automotive Status be Damned

Answer: a teen from a more than middle class family. In which case, sure, they’ll get a driver’s license. Or not. Their parents can afford to pay for Uber all day, every day.

Which is OK with the kid, because a) it’s more convenient and mature than getting driven around by Mom and Dad b) if it exists, teen car status is based on driving a cool car on party nights. That’s when it’s ride hailing apps Uber alles.

I’m not saying teen car culture is dead. That particular brand of fascination may start during teenage years. But it’s viewed from afar, delayed until adulthood. For example…

Aside from Mia Toretto in the first Fast and Furious movie, all the characters are in their 30’s or older. (Mia’s 28.) And they don’t get any younger.

Contrast that with the 1973 movie American Graffiti – a coming-of-age film following a group of teenage friends cruising around Modesto, California on the eve of high school graduation (set in 1962).

Or 1978’s high school musical Grease, featuring a car with its own song (Greased Lightning) and a couple of cute car-crazed coupling teens.

Speaking of which, 2006’s High School Musical gave us Sharpay Evans's pink Jeep Wrangler, Troy Bolton's red Toyota Tacoma and Gabriella Montez's blue Honda Civic.

Back then, cars maketh the teen. Today, not so much. If at all. Maybe that’s because they can’t get a license, even if they want to.

Driver’s Tests are a Bitch

Back in the day, an aspiring teen driver hung out in Driver’s Ed, watched a snuff movie, passed a written test, had their eyes checked and ba-bam! The state blessed them with a learner’s permit.

In the interest of safety, learner permits are now heavily restrictive. In Texas, a permit holder…

  1. Must have a licensed driver in the front seat who’s at least 21 years old who’s had a driver's license for at least five years

  2. Can’t drive between 11:01 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.

  3. Can’t drive with more than one passenger who is under the age of 21, unless the passenger is a family member

Where’s the fun in that?

Today’s written test is no picnic either; it requires a considerable amount of math memorization (e.g., stopping distances at various speeds over various distances). Or maybe the written test is the same and teens are no longer up to the task.

According to a 2021 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, only 37 percent of high school seniors are proficient in math.

Hang on. Can they even read the test?

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 36 percent of 12th graders in the United States are proficient in reading.

Social Media

Teen status is no longer dependent on rocking-up in a cool car. Aside from private jet selfies, it’s no longer about the journey. It’s about the destination.

What you look like when you arrive. Who’s there. Who isn’t there. What you do when you’re there. How many people give a damn.

To be fair, back in the day, before the internet, the world was a lot less interesting. Put another way, it was a lot more interesting than what you could find on three TV channels, a few radio stations and any magazine other than Playboy.

Going for a drive was kinda like surfing the internet. Now that you can go anywhere and hang with lots of people with the click of a mouse - sorry, a swipe of the finger - you no longer need a license to thrill.

OK Boomer

The times they are a changed. I’m not saying things were better when teens were independently mobile.

No question: teens died behind the wheel in greater numbers than they do today, and death is not cool. Unless you’re James Dean. And who is?

I wasted a lot of time and money pursuing carvana as a kid. Crumpling a Ford Pinto. Snapping the front axel on a Mercedes 230E. So many speeding tickets. So many close calls.

It may come as news to today’s teens, but freedom includes the freedom to fail. A life lesson that doesn’t require a driver’s license. But it doesn’t hurt. Until and unless it does.

0 views0 comments


bottom of page