Image from Jacob Mogey.
In recent years, there has been a noticeable shift in the age at which students obtain their driver’s licenses. Traditionally, getting a driver’s license has been seen as a rite of passage into adulthood in American culture, signifying a greater sense of freedom. However, it also comes with great responsibility; there are grave consequences for driving without your complete attention.
As society has become more interconnected and urbanized, with ride-share platforms like Uber and Lyft growing, the need to drive everywhere is slowly diminishing. Competition in the academic world has also skyrocketed, with teenagers diverting more focus to competing with their peers instead of enjoying their lives. This has unfortunate consequences, as many teenagers now choose to stay at home, study, and text their friends instead of meeting up in person. As a result, most teens simply don’t see the need to get their driver’s license, as they believe it to be a waste of time and money that they could instead spend on studying. In 1983, more than 45% of teenagers held a driver’s license (Statista), but by 2018, that figure was down to merely 25%.
Getting a driver’s license is also difficult and time-consuming for teenagers. As Mukul Dangi, a senior at Washington High School, put it, “It does take a lot of time as there’s driver’s Ed and the permit, then six months after the permit to get your license, and then one year after you [get your] license to be able to drive people.” This deters many teenagers from diverting precious hours towards studying for the driver’s exam, racking up 50 hours of driving time, and spending upwards of $300 on driving school. While it is necessary for teenagers, who are known to be reckless and immature, to study intensively before they get behind the wheel of a two ton machine, it is simply not feasible for many to manage driving and school at once. In highly competitive areas such as the Bay Area, students are recommended to take anywhere from 7 to 12 AP courses throughout high school, which leaves little time to spare for recreation or any other passions. This, compounded with the intensive time commitment required of driving, is a primary cause for the decline in teen drivers.
The issue is not simply because of a lack of time. Teenagers have to pay significantly more money to drive. Auto insurance is mandated by law and can cost around $200 a month for teenagers, while those older than 18 pay around $120 a month. In addition to the many costs associated with clubs, school events, and more, many teenagers are not particularly keen on putting this immense financial burden on their parents. As Dangi says, “Many kids aren’t really inclined to get the license as they figure it’s much more financially effective just to stay home and wait until they’re much older to get their license.”
Still, many students look forward to getting their licenses. Deshna Kankaria, a junior at Washington High School, said she has been “looking forward to driving for a long time.” She believes getting a license gives teenagers more freedom and allows them to live out their “golden years” completely. The idea of having more freedom resonates with many, such as Jainam Patel, who recently graduated from Washington High School. He says the “frequency of me and my friends hanging out increased drastically after getting my license.”
In light of these evolving circumstances, the decision to obtain a driver’s license has become a complex teenage dilemma. It reflects the changing priorities and challenges of today’s youth, highlighting the delicate balance between the desire for independence and the realities of modern life. As society continues to grow, so does the significance of this age-old milestone, leaving us to question its importance in today’s world.
Atharva Sonune, currently in his Junior Year, has had a diverse upbringing that spans India, Ohio, and California. Embarking on his inaugural year at the paper, Atharva brings a fervent curiosity for journalism. His passions encompass a wide array of topics, including emerging technology, economics, and politics. Beyond the world of writing, Atharva actively engages as a dedicated DECA member, is interested in guitar, and loves to edit videos. He wishes to hone his photography skills and is currently focusing on getting ready for college applications next year.