As of 2014, only some 25 percent of American 16-year-olds had driver’s licenses. That’s a significant decline from 1983, when some 46 percent of teens that age had their licenses. This, according to the Federal Highway Administration, and as cited by Gary Cross, professor emeritus at Penn State in an article he wrote for The Atlantic.
It is Cross’ contention that teen driving culture has changed and is perhaps, dying. For one thing, it’s harder for teens to lay their hands on a car today. Cars are made better, last longer, and as a result, cost more, even when they’re used. That eliminates the possibility of purchasing a junk car to fix up. And it certainly knocks poorer teenagers from having wheels.
Experts, say Cross, have also pushed to raise the age requirement higher, using research to show that younger teens just aren’t ready to drive and therefore get into more crashes. States, moreover, have pushed for stricter rules about when and where younger teens might drive. It used to be that teens could cruise around in their cars to create a private environment free of adult oversight. It was a major form of teen entertainment. But by the 1980’s many towns were pushing for anti-cruising laws, because it was believed that cruising presented a nuisance to the general public.
To summarize, only rich kids can afford a car, and cruising is no longer a common activity for teens. Our driving culture has changed. Whether or not this is a good thing requires, perhaps, a crystal ball.