Driving Time

Is driving a thing of the past?

For many of us, getting the driver’s license was a rite of passage. We were counting the days, possibly even minutes, until we were old enough to put in the application and sit that first test. The first time behind the wheel, we bunny hopped down the road, tires squealed, and we flew forward as we put the brake on a little hard. (And in my case, I gave my mother a heart attack and her first gray hair.) When we passed our practicals, it was party time and driving down to our favorite haunts to show off the piece of paper.

However, something has changed. While we were biting on the bit to get our driver’s license, the current generation of youth don’t seem to care.

Who are these children? What am I missing that is the secret to this apathy from the next generation?

Before I go too much further, I should probably give you a bit of backstory here.

My son, the wonderful young man he is, turned 16 years old back in September 2017. If he had been anything like my husband or myself, he would have been insisting that we go down to the testing center the moment the doors opened on his birthday, but…

Car KeysIn New Zealand, a person can apply to sit the theory test for their learner’s license on their 16th birthday. (When I was younger, it was 15 and so many months, but the laws changed a few years back.) There is a minimum period on a learner’s, then one can sit their practical. Upon passing the practical, you get a restricted license, where you are not allowed to drive with others in the car, or between the hours of 10pm to 6am, unless there is a fully licensed driver over 18 years of age in the front passenger seat. After a minimum period on the restricted, you can apply for your full license, which has to be replaced ever 10 years.

The laws certainly have changed, because I know some who remember the days before the restricted license came in, and my first full license was just a plastic coated piece of paper that was valid until my 75th birthday. (If I dig around in the memories box, I could probably find that original license.) The photo licenses that needed to be replaced every 10 years didn’t come in until I was 23, at which time, my husband got a 10-year license, but mine was only valid for 2 years — I had to get a new one on my 25th birthday, which is a story within itself.

I was HIGHLY pregnant at the time and they screwed up my signature on my new driver’s license by printing only the top half of my signature on the card… And they wanted me to pay for another license because I refused to accept the card. IT WAS THEIR MISTAKE! New photo had to be taken as a consequence. It didn’t matter that for the first photo I had done my hair nicely and put on makeup. No… For 10 years, I had red, puffy eyes and tear-stained checks on my driver’s photo, and ALL because I was an emotional wreck who could barely fit behind the steering wheel.

But I digress…

He’s 16, but has no interest in learning to drive?

My son is now old enough to get his learners, but I knew before his 16th birthday rolled around that he wouldn’t be applying for it — not then. He hadn’t done any of the theory learning. When I asked him when he would start learning the road code, he said that he wanted to wait until AFTER his exams.

That made perfect sense to me. He was in Year 11 (equivalent to Sophomore in high school). Year 11 in New Zealand is the first year of NZCEA. It’s a BIG year. If he didn’t do well in NZCEA, he would have to repeat the year. I gladly supported the decision. However, he finished school for the year early December, and still he showed no interest in getting the driver’s license.

His younger sister had the brilliant idea of buying him a copy of the road code for Christmas. So Christmas morning, he got his L-plates, a copy of the road code, and multiple practice tests. Still…

Confused MotherWe are now at the end of the summer break, and he starts Year 12 in the next day or two, and still no interest. What am I doing wrong?

I’ve had many a conversations with him about this, as has his father. Still no interest.

His friends also show no interest. Could this really be a generational thing?

Recently, I sent out a poll on Twitter and on my personal feed on Facebook, asking other parents of teens if they were facing the same issue that I am. I got a surprising answer.

It would appear that children in their mid- to late-twenties were excited by the process (in general), but the younger ones… Some were excited to get their learner’s, but showed no interest in actually learning how to drive, while others were like my son and are the slow turtles in this driving race. There were a few who were super excited to be joining the ranks of licensed drivers, but their numbers were rare.

A driver’s license used to mean freedom!

My son has a theory, one that I happen to agree with. In the past, the driver’s license was a symbol of freedom — it was a symbol of prestige — but that symbol seems to have lost its luster.

When I was teen, some twenty-odd years ago, if I wanted to see my friends, I had to pick up a phone (a landline of all things) and make arrangements accordingly to meet… wherever. Public transport where I grew up was a dog’s breakfast — practically none existent at certain times of the day. Sometimes, I was able to sweet talk my mother into dropping me off at the cinema, but if I wanted to got the beach with my friends… You have got to be kidding. Most of the time the answer was “Walk.” (Bikes in the hilly North Shore suburbs of Auckland were not a happening thing. Some of those roads… I swear they had a 30-degree incline, and I had to RUN up those hills most mornings to catch the bus to school.) When the first of us got his full license, it was massive party time. To this day, I can’t listen to Thunderstruck by AC/DC without getting all giddy with excitement, grinning from ear to ear. The memories of flying through the windy coastal roads with that song threatening to blow apart the speakers… Those were the days.

Today, you don’t need to go through the same lengths that I had to just to hang out with friends. You have social media, video calling, online gaming, and landlines are rapidly becoming a thing of the past — kids have cellphones, not that my son actually knows how to charge his cellphone or actually take it with him wherever he goes — but that’s a different issue. Cars have lost their freedom tag, but instead have become a necessity for our modern way of life.

Why would children want to rush off to do something that is necessary just to go to the store? Where is the joy in it? And why would they need a driver’s license to hang out with their friends, if they can do so online from the comfort of their bedrooms?

I’m sure that when my son finally gets off his ass and gets his driver’s license that he’ll start to see the joy and freedom in having a license. In the meantime, I will need to continue providing Mom’s Taxi, much to my dismay.

Perhaps, I need to start charging for those taxi rides. I could probably make a small fortune — certainly enough to pay for my son’s driving tests.Taxi

If you have any thoughts on this argument, I would love to hear them in the comments below. Perhaps, you might be willing to part with a few idea on how I can convince my 16-year-old son to actually get his driver’s license.

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