Kicking and screaming were not involved, but it did take our 19-year-old son, Gideon, an interminably long time to show an interest in soloing with the drivers license he obtained at age 16.
Finally, the reality of walking 20 minutes from his off-campus apartment in inclement weather made him more agreeable to letting us buy him a sensible vehicle.
(Also, my over-protective mother has relinquished her habit of squawking, “Don’t let that young ’un get splattered all over the road!” every time the automobile topic arises. Truth be told, that was also her reaction when we got him replacement insoles, earbuds, a Waterpik … But I digress.)
At first I thought Gideon had been an outlier, but statistics from the Federal Highway Administration show a shocking drop in the number of Americans in their teens and 20s who possess/utilize a drivers license.
I’m sure some older Americans breathe a sigh of relief over less traffic congestion and fewer inexperienced-driver wrecks; but this trend smacks of HERESY to most Baby Boomers and Generation Xers, who viewed a set of wheels as a rite of passage, a coveted ticket to independence.
Our creed, to paraphrase President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, was “Let every pedestrian know, whether they wish us well or ill, that we shall pay any price (in monthly installments, hopefully softened by Dad being in the same lodge as the salesman), bear any burden (like bratty younger siblings), meet any hardship (of duct tape shortages), support any friend (if they shout ‘Shotgun!’ fast enough), blow exhaust on any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
I still have the well-worn Teen-age Hotrodders comic book that my cousin, Harlin, passed along to me when I was 5 or 6 years old.
I grew up seeing the Route 66 Corvette convertible, the Batmobile, the Bandit’s Pontiac Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit, Greased Lightning in Grease, the General Lee in The Dukes of Hazzard, and KITT in Knight Rider.
Admittedly, like Gideon, I was contented to walk or be chauffeured around for too many years; but as a generation (or two), yes, we were car-obsessed.
I remember one slightly younger family friend who totaled his first truck within six months and insisted on spending more than it was worth restoring it because it had immeasurable SENTIMENTAL VALUE as his first truck! (Should have seen this coming when he had all those knock-down, drag-out tussles with the Tooth Fairy.)
Many factors contribute to the current complacency about driving: the high cost of vehicles, insurance and fuel; the emergence of Uber and DoorDash; single parents with scant time to give driving lessons; concerns about carbon footprints; and KITT’s recent deathbed confession of being transphobic.
Two other factors: (a) the way younger people spend more time communicating online rather than cruising around in person and (b) the siren call of mass transit systems in urban areas.
Sure, why waste time “parking” at Inspiration Point when you can shoot a TikTok video of the loner who was inspired to shove you onto the subway tracks?
I really must ask my cousin, Hal (the classic-car enthusiast), what he thinks of the state of the nation. Will cars become more and more a thing of the past, or will traditionalists finally reach a breaking point?
“Son, you’re gonna drive me to drinkin’ / If you don’t stop dissin’ that Hot … Rod … Lincoln!”