Here’s a headline to catch an old-timer’s eye: TEEN DRIVERS NOT DRIVEN TO GET LICENCES.
“The world has changed,” says Mary Baracco, director of Young Drivers of Canada. “When baby boomers were growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, 16-year-olds were more apt to get their licence right away. Today it’s not as high a priority for young people.”
Well, I certainly didn’t get my first driving licence when I turned 16 — but only because my birthday fell on a Sunday. Come 9 a.m. Monday morning you could find me with my nose pressed flat against the glass door of the driver licensing office, waiting to get my hands on that precious document.
When I was in high school, getting your driver’s licence was as sacred a teenage rite of passage as sneaking a smoke under the bleachers or buying your first tube of Clearasil.
Getting your licence meant freedom! No more plodding like a foot soldier from home to burger joint — or worse, riding your dorky CCM three-speed. Nobody hoping to appear cool rode a bicycle after they were old enough to get a driver’s licence. That little piece of paper was like sprouting your own set of wings.
It wasn’t really. Most of us still didn’t have a car and getting permission to take out the family clunker involved Kissingeresque negotiations with the Keeper of the Keys, but we imagined we were free as birds.
So what’s different between the kids of today and kids back then? Well, the driver’s test, for one thing. When I got my licence back in the Stone Age, all I had to do was wheel once around my one-horse town with a municipal clerk in the passenger seat and try not to hit anything. Nowadays new drivers have to thread their way through Learners and Novice levels, each with a host of restrictions and provisos that would daunt all but the most determined contestants.
Then there’s insurance. If you’re under 25, insurance companies treat you with all the compassion and understanding they would extend to any alcoholic serial-killing speed freak. They’re more than happy to extend a policy to you. Don’t forget to bring your wallet.
Speaking of wallets, best enrol in a qualified driver’s-ed program before you take the test. That’ll set you back another few hundred bucks.
There is one other major modern development that’s put driving a car on the back burner for many young people, and it’s so small you could fit a couple of dozen of them in the glove compartment.
The cellphone. Think about it. The cellphone does for kids of today what a car did for kids of my generation. It puts them in touch with their peers (and more). It’s available around the clock and it doesn’t get flat tires or speeding tickets.
Sheryl Connelly, a manager with Ford Motor Company has seen the writing on the windshield: “The car has been displaced by the cellphone,” she says. “Digital devices transcend time and space. You can feel you’re with your friends even when you’re not with your friends.”
Well, maybe. But when my 16-year-old hormones were looking for a ‘friend’ on Saturday night, text messaging was not what was on my mind. And there’s something about the ambience of sitting in a big old Dodge with its hood ornament pointed at a Drive-In movie screen, a big box of popcorn on the dashboard and your sweetie beside you that all the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in the world haven’t figured out how to replicate.