Teens Don't Want to Drive. Is This a Problem?

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©. Keystone Features, Getty Images/ Teenagers learning to drive in Brooklyn High School, 1953. Do they still do this?

A series of newspaper articles ask the wrong question.

Writing in the Boston Globe, Dan Albert wonders In the age of Uber and Snapchat, how do you get teens excited to drive? He describes his daughter, who doesn't know how to drive. "Molly, born in 2000, is at the epicenter of our present revolution. She is the bull’s-eye of the target market for Uber, robo-electric cars, and Brooklyn. And she’s scaring car companies to death."

Detroit needs to figure out whether kids don’t like driving, don’t like shopping for cars, don’t care about cars, or simply don’t need cars. Researchers suggest that the Internet has something to do with this slow death of the car culture. It makes intuitive sense that kids today don’t need to come together in time and space the way they used to.

So he finally kind of forces her to drive, thinking it is important, better than the alternative. "I want driving — the pure experience itself — to rescue her from a life of passive touch-screen consumption."
This is a subject we have been discussing for years, noting that young people are turning their backs on cars and, more recently, carmakers don't know what to do to get young people interested. We noted that driving isn't as much fun as it used to be. "The roads are clogged, the parking is hard to find, you don't pick people up by cruising down Main Street anymore, you can't fiddle with your car because they have turned into computers." But I do not think I have ever come across someone promoting driving, "the pure experience itself," as being part of a healthy, active life.

Seen on a Toronto Street

Lloyd Alter/ Seen on a Toronto Street/CC BY 2.0

Meanwhile Andrew Clark wonders in the Globe and Mail, How do we get millennials and Gen Z back into cars? He also notes that car companies are scared. No, it's worse than that.

Panicked. That’s the best adjective to describe automobile manufacturers around the world. They’re panicked because Millennials and Gen Z (those born between 1995 and 2015) aren’t interested in driving and, what’s worse, not too keen on buying cars.

But Clark is a lot more realistic about the reasons.

I’m not an expert, but I think the fact that everyday driving – commuting, shopping, navigating big cities – is a universally unpleasant experience, may have something to do with young people not wanting to spend tens of thousands of dollars doing it. It’s as if people under the age of 35 have not embraced the concept of working hard at a job you don’t like in order to buy things you don’t need.

Unlike Dan Albert in the Boston Globe, Andrew Clark in the Canadian Globe recognizes that now "the automobile represents climate change, pollution, congestion and urban blight." He understands why young people would rather not drive.

Millennials and Gen Z face climate change, an enormous disparity between rich and poor, student debt, political upheaval and technology that far outpaces society’s ability to control it. I’d say they have it pretty hard already. It’s going to take some big, positive advances to bring the romance back to driving. Automobile manufacturers can look forward to more sleepless nights.

Actually, all of us should be learning from those millennials and Gen Z kids, and Dan Albert should be listening to Molly. Car ownership is expensive, it's not much fun anymore, and it is killing our cities, and the kids have figured this out. Given that cars are responsible for so much of our greenhouse gas emissions, they may save us all.