When I was a teenager (you know, a couple of years back), I held off on getting my driver's license—mainly because I was scrounging to get to and through college, versus pouring savings into buying, fueling and repairing a car. Frankly, I felt very alone and odd in a world where every teenager was counting the days and minutes until his or her 16th birthday, when they could jump behind the wheel.
How times have changed. It appears that today's generation of teenagers and 20-somethings aren't all that interested in driving cars. They'd rather stay in one place and dabble with their PCs and mobile devices.
That's the latest conclusion of a couple of new surveys, one by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), and the other by ZipCar, the car-sharing service.
ZipCar surveyed 1,045 people, of which 294 were between the ages of 18 and 34, and found more than half would rather take public transportation or ride a bike to their destinations. Another 68 percent say they would rather link and chat with friends over social networking channels than drive over to see them.
Similarly, the UMTRI study – which compared attitudes among young people 30 years ago versus today, finds slippage in the percentage of young people getting their driver's licenses. About 87 percent of 19-year-olds in 1983 had their licenses, but 25 years later, that percentage had dropped to about 75 percent. Other teen driving groups also have declined: 18-year-olds fell from 80 percent in 1983 to 65 percent in 2008, 17-year-olds decreased from 69 percent to 50 percent, and 16-year-olds slipped from 46 percent to 31 percent.
Drivers in their 20s and 30s also saw their ranks fall as a percentage of their age group population — down nearly 10 percentage points for 20-somethings and down about five percentage points for the 30-somethings.
In essence, the problem with today's young people isn't that they are allowing texting to interfere with their driving, it's that having to drive is interfering with their texting. Michael Sivak, research professor and author of the UMTRI study, confirms this: “Some young people feel that driving interferes with texting and other electronic communication,” adding that “It is possible that the availability of virtual contact through electronic means reduces the need for actual contact among young people,” says Sivak.
This trend has obvious consequences for carriers in the auto insurance business. Perhaps iPhone insurance may be a more lucrative line for this age group?
It also demonstrates unintended consequences – and the powerful pull – of technology. Getting a driver's license at 16 was, for generations, a more important event in young people's lives than their wedding day (also on the decline, by the way, but that's a whole different story).
If technology can undermine the embedded rituals of an entire generation, imagine the impact it has on organizations.
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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