“Driver’s Licenses Lose Allure for Young,” by Christina Rogers and Gautham Nagesh. The Wall Street Journal, 1/21/2016.
In our day, everyone wanted to get their driver’s license as soon after their 16th birthday as possible. For many of us, this meant taking Mr. Brown’s Driver Ed class. He sat beside us in the dual-control passenger’s seat with amazing patience as we tried over and over to parallel park. Later, he took us in small groups to the DMV for our test. In my social group, only Dave Hall was indifferent to getting his license. We could never understand his attitude, but it turns out he was over 60 years ahead of our time.
Sixteen-year-olds today are more like Dave than like us. Less than 25% of them have their driver’s license, down from 80% in 1983. The WSJ article gives the example of a 23-year-old Brooklyn girl who has never had a driver’s license and no plans to get one.
The example illustrates the reason for this change. As more people are living in cities, they have more options of public transportation that are far more convenient than fighting city traffic in a car. And many are children of immigrants who grew up in a village culture where cars were unnecessary.
This change in attitude explains the change in TV automobile advertising noticeable in the last few years. The ads now emphasize the amusement-park thrill of spinning donuts on some sort of dirt flat by laughing, open-mouthed young people. (The exception is Chevrolet who is trying to overcome a reputation of cheap, junky cars.) Just a few years ago, the ads were about the all-knowing teenagers gaping with approval at a car driven by a sheepishly grinning 30-something who now is reassured he picked the right brand. (Cars are now bought on credit, and with low interest rates, even a lowly service job can support the monthly payments of a luxury car. Brand status is a declining factor.)
All this is a far cry from the ads of the 1960s that we were familiar with. Those ads showed happy families of the father driving an open convertible in a suit and fedora with his wife beside him in a dress and pearl necklace like June Cleaver. In the back seat were two smiling, well-scrubbed, well-behaved children while Dinah Shore sang in the background “See the USA in your Chevrolet.” They were driving through the sunny countryside along an open highway with no other cars or strip-malls in sight. No wonder we fell in love with cars.