The millennial generation, described as young people ranging in age from mid to late teens to about 30 years old, are not as addicted to driving as are those of us considered Baby Boomers—post World War II children who are now either already out to pasture or contemplating retirement.
So says syndicated columnist Froma Harrop in this morning’s Denton Record-Chronicle. Harrop writes that fewer teens are rushing to get drivers’ licenses when they turn 16 and that young adults are foregoing driving in favor of taking the bus, riding a bicycle or hoofing it to where they want to go.
She offers several reasons for the lack of enthusiasm for driving and the waning love affair for the car. Cost is a big one. The price of an automobile is considerably steeper than when I bought my first vehicle for $200—a ten-year old Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 with a suspicious transmission. Gasoline is higher; repairs are more expensive; and insurance is required.
But of equal if not more importance, Harrop contends, is the lack of excitement for “the open road.” Driving now consists largely of slugging through congested traffic with thousands of frustrated motorists, many of whom continue to use hand signals to communicate to other drivers—just not the same signals we learned in driver’s ed back in the ‘60s.
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“See the USA in Your Chevrolet,” was a call to my generation to take to the newly constructed Interstate Highway system and see the wonders of this sprawling country. Young men and women back from the War, our moms and dads, were more mobile, willing to uproot and move away from farms and small towns to seek adventures and careers in other locales. We were on the move and the automobile would carry us to our new destinies.
Teenagers wanted to drive. It was a primal urge. I remember sitting in my dad’s Plymouth Belvedere, the one with shark fins on the back, practicing the precision timing necessary to mesh clutch with gear stick. The process, I discovered, is considerably more difficult when the car is in motion and requiring coordinating hands and feet as well as keeping your eyes on the road.
I also remember the intense embarrassment of failing my driver’s test—TWICE.
When I finally had that piece of paper (not plastic back then) offering me freedom to move about the county, if not the state or country quite yet, I was ecstatic. I convinced a girl to go to the movies with me, John Wayne, I believe (the movie, not the girl). My life was rich; I was mobile. I loved to drive.
I still do. I agree with Ms. Harrop that city driving, especially in Dallas at rush hour (which can begin at any time of the day), can be tedious, annoying, nerve-wracking and unpleasant. I try to avoid that as much as possible. But most of my driving occurs in the vast open spaces of the rural Southwest, over highways offering unobstructed views for miles ahead. I have mesas, rangeland, cattle ranches and well-tended farmland to watch as I push my pickup just slightly above the speed limit. I slow down when I veer onto the backroads that lead to my next interview or to a cloud of dust that could offer a nice photo op of field work.
Driving time provides opportunity for contemplation, self-appraisal and ideas for a story or commentary. It’s still fun. It’s still exciting—too much so during events such as the recent hail storm—and the bus don’t go where I need to be.
I put a lot of miles on my pickup (sorry Dinah, it’s a Ford), and I often get frustrated when I’m headed home and hit Dallas or Fort Worth at rush hour. Rest assured, however, that I never resort to hand signals.