I've read numerous reports lately that fewer Americans are driving cars. And fewer young people are getting a driver's license. (Really? That was the singular most important indication of freedom from one's family when I was growing up. It was the key--literally--to getting out in the world.) And those who do drive, are driving fewer miles. A lot fewer.
What's going on? For one thing, in some cities public transportation has gotten better and more accessible. And bike riding is increasingly seen as a good alternative to driving one's car, especially with city-sponsored bike lanes improving safety for bicycle riders. And the recession has meant fewer people are commuting in their cars. Lots of reasons.
But here is the one that stuck out for me in reading an article in today's New York Times entitled "Young Americans Lead Trend to Less Driving." Michael Sivak of the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan has been involved in research into driving habits of the young. Sivak opines that online usage has something to do with the trend towards fewer young people being interested in getting a driver's license. In the study they did, he reports that "a higher proportion of Internet users was associated with a lower licensure rate." And he goes on to say "This finding is consistent with the hypothesis that access to virtual contact reduces the need for actual contact among young people."
Say it isn't so. I have to let that sink in: "Access to virtual contact reduces the need for actual contact among young people."
I hate to think that young people would rather sit text their friends that get together with those friends. Some of the happiest moments of my high school life are associated with memories of the time we would spend deciding who could "have the car" from their household and then who would be included in our evening of "driving around" as we called it. We would literally just drive around town, picking up our friends at their homes to join in the conversation that would go on for hours in the car, with an occasional stop for a Coke or other snack at a drive-in stand.
I suppose I should be praising this trend because fewer cars and less gas usage means a cleaner environment (although, while we Americans are reducing our hunger for automotive life, people elsewhere in the world are gearing up--quite literally--to become car owners and drivers and polluters in their respective countries). But somehow the nostalgia of car talk and all that means about growing up in an earlier America takes over and I have to say I pity kids of today who think their phone is a substitute for the family car.
And the freedom of being at the wheel of the car, driving out of the driveway, and into adulthood.