Do You Have a Drivers License?


The other day, my friend Caroline pointed out the red A attached to the back of her car window. No it’s not a scarlet letter, it’s to indicate to other cars that there is an Adolecscent driver (her daughter) behind the wheel. It’s actually a law here in France. I don’t know the details — like how long it must remain in the window, and what ages are considered adolescent — but I think it’s smart. An easy heads up that the car in front of you has a relatively new driver, so you can cut them some slack (and maybe give them a wider than normal space on the road).

Teens in France can’t get their driver’s license until age 18. I was thinking about that, and then I saw this article from the Washington Post about how the car culture in America is dying.

I both related to the article, and felt a wave of nostalgia about the topic. I related to it, because while I was super excited to get my license, and took my driving test on my 16th birthday, my two oldest kids weren’t in a big hurry to get theirs at all — Maude was almost 17, and Ralph just got his before we left to France, at 18 and a half. But more than that, neither of them seems to enjoy driving that much — it seems more of a task for them than a pleasure (which I realize could partly be California traffic).

Additionally, I don’t know that they feel the same freedom that driving gave me as a teen. My car literally connected me to my friends and their homes after school and on the weekends. But with cell phones, my kids are connected to their friends all the time, with or without a car. Anything they need or want can be delivered to their door easily. For them, a car, and driving, is optional. In fact, I feel like I know lots of 16-and-older kids in Oakland that don’t have a license. It’s a costly, time-intensive thing to get. And then there’s the cost of owning a car. It’s easy to skip it and use buses, trains, and ubers instead — or just bum a ride from a friend.

It’s taken me awhile to realize that driving for my kids is simply going to be a different thing than it has been for me. And my younger kids may never learn to drive at all. Learning to drive and owning a car may end up becoming a hobby instead of an almost universal American need.

That’s where the wave of nostalgia comes in. I have lots of happy memories around cars and driving. My dad was always buying and selling cars, a wide range of them, and I formed opinions about which ones I liked best from an early age. There are certain vintage models that make my heart sing! And I can list you the favorite cars I’ve owned, like the ’83 red Landcruiser and the vintage 4L Renault. Of course, I’m not the only one. Sometimes it seems like growing up in America includes having opinions about cars and connecting them to your identity. My experience is not unusual.

But times are changing. In cities, programs that offer shared “ownership” of cars are taking hold. Things like Car2Go and Zipcars. The whole community shares them, there is always one available and nearby, and you just drive them as needed. That appeals to me too. The idea of not needing to personally own and care for a car, but having one available, sounds really good.

Even with six kids, we’ve been a one car family for almost our entire marriage. It’s easy for us because we work at home. But with more drivers in the house, we’re thinking about adding a second car this fall. Though we’re not totally convinced. When we do the math, and add up insurance, car payment, fuel and maintenance, setting aside a budget for public transit + uber/lyft would cost about as much and take up less time and thought.

All this makes me curious. Do you have your driver’s license? If you have kids 16 or older, do they? Do you feel attitudes about driving are changing for teens? Are cars important to you personally? Do you connect them with your identity? Like, are there certain cars you would never drive or own because they don’t fit your image? Or are you A-OK with any vehicle as long as it gets you from point A to point B in comfort and on time? And beyond the car, what about driving itself? If you had access to a self-driving car would you be happy to give up driving? Or do you love the act of driving?

P.S. — I shared this article on Friday, but in case you missed it, it relates to this topic. It’s a vision of what a city might look like when the average citizen doesn’t need to own a car, and all cars are self-driving.

83 thoughts on “Do You Have a Drivers License?”

  1. Interesting take on cell phones vs cars for the next generation. My husband lived 20 minutes from town so a car was an essential part of being able to socialize.

    We both got our drivers licenses at 16 (in our mid 30’s now). We own two cars and lease a third from his work. We have a mini, 4Runner, and lease a sports car. We live in the suburbs and public transportation isn’t great here. Uber actually just came to the nearest cities last month. We both enjoy cars and driving. Two of our cars are manuals.

    1. Unless I’m in wall-to-wall to traffic, I’ve realized I prefer driving a manual. I feel like I’m more “into” it somehow. Something about the interactiveness. We don’t own a manual now, but in France, almost all cars are manuals, even rentals. So I’m getting lots of time driving stick here. Maude has tried it twice, and so far doesn’t see the appeal. : )

      1. Having learned manual as I grew up in Europe, it is really important to me to teach my kids manual driving when they get their license – it’s a silly thing really, but I think my kids being able to drive anywhere and not being helpless is important to me, just as I want them to learn how to change a flat tire or boosts a car if they need to. I think even if they end up living in a city where they don’t need to drive, such as Europe or even NYC, knowing how is still a great skill to have.

  2. I lived overseas myself around the driving age so I didn’t get my drivers license until I was almost 19 and almost a sophomore in college. It was quite hard but I had no other option. This was not so long ago; it was in 2003. Even then I didn’t have my own car until I was 21. I survived on busses and friends. Both my younger siblings weren’t super keen on getting drivers licenses when the time came. They each waited a while, just because they had no strong urge to get it. It’s not like my parents provided any cars for them to drive anyway.

  3. I live in the Chicago suburbs. Most kids get their licenses here sometime between 16-18. Our state has a law requiring a student driver to hold a learner’s permit for 9 months before getting a license, so that delays things for some kids. My son got his license one month shy of his 17th birthday and my daughter will start driver’s ed just a week after her 15th birthday. Not driving is not really an option here. While there is good train service to downtown Chicago for commuters, public transit to get around the suburbs is limited an inconvenient (including to the train station!). I’m not up for sending my kid alone in a car with a stranger, so no ubers for us.

    1. I hear you. I think a lack of public transportation is a huge factor. Certainly it’s much easier to forego a car and driving if you live downtown in a big city.

  4. My husband and I were just talking about this topic this weekend. I find it so interesting that the younger generation is not learning how to drive. I personally think of it as a life skill and something you should learn. I think having a license also means you can have more opportunities open to you. I work with a lot of international students who would like to find jobs in the U.S. after graduation, and getting a license is a critical step for them because it means they don’t have to limit their job search to a region with reliable public transportation. They can look anywhere since they know driving to work can be an option for them. I also have bit of a feminist take on driving and having a license. I feel that as a woman having a license helps you be more independent and not need to rely on others, especially if you are in a situation that you may need to leave, whether it be a social outing that you are not comfortable being at or an unhealthy domestic situation.

    I’m puzzled by suburban kids who don’t drive though. There is no public transportation and uber option in the region I live in. Is it that parents today are willing to continue driving their kids around longer than our parents were?

    1. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and folks at most, a family car. We did not. Car insurance is high in the city and while some homes had driveways or garages, it was lucrative to rent your garage to someone else if you didn’t need a car yourself. Traffic is bad, too. Depending on where you worked, a car could be necessary but most of the time it was weekend vehicle.

      I got my license at 24 when I moved to the suburbs. We can walk to many things but not all of the essential things so I always think of a car as a pair of shoes – you can’t get far without it/them.

      My kids are still elementary school-aged, so I’m not entirely sure of the details, but I’ve heard that my car insurance will go up once they are of driving age – whether they’ve gotten their license or not. I, too, think of driving as a life skill. I don’t relish the idea of driving my future teens to everything, but I don’t picture us owning 3 cars either, so I’m not sure how much drive-time they would actually have.

    2. Love the part about driving as a woman, but also for the historical aspect of it. My grandmother was the only one of her sisters that drove (ladies just didn’t do that). She got her license by sending in 25 cents to the state and it came in the mail. :)

  5. Growing up in spread out Phoenix Az, driving was a BIG deal. Now in San Francisco, traffic is terrible, but I still own my own car (a Prius, which I love). Public transit here is ok, but not good. I’d love a city with a great transit system and I’d love great inter-city transit systems. Then you could just rent a car for a day or week if you wanted to go into the countryside or on a road trip. My daughter, got her license at 17 I think it was, but had a couple of accidents and a tire that blew out on the freeway, so she gave up driving when she moved to NYC 15 years ago. I think part of the reason she loved NYC was because she didn’t need to drive to get around.

  6. Interesting topic! I grew up in a small town, so driving was a must, and I have fond memories of “road trips” to nearby towns with my friends in high school. This made me think: Gabrielle, at what age do you allow your kids to take Uber by themselves?

    1. Hmm. Good question. I think only Ralph has actually gone by himself. Maybe Maude once too? I suppose it depends on the kid, but apparently we’ve been okay once they’re in the 16+ range.

      Ralph uses his own Uber account now, but the rest of our kids don’t have their own. So if they needed an uber, I would be the one calling it and I would be able to watch the car’s progress on my phone.

      When using an uber, I do ask my kids to text me when they get in the car, and to text me again when they arrive.

  7. I didn’t care about getting my license until around the time I turne 18–I didn’t have a car, or money to buy one, and so it was kind of pointless to get a license when I wouldn’t be driving anyway (plus I think I was scared). But I went away to college, and I knew I would need some form of ID, and really didn’t want it to be my learner’s permit. I just felt like I needed to know how to drive and have my drivers license before I went off to school. So the week after my 18th birthday, three days before I left for college, I took the drivers test (twice) and got it. I was really glad to have it at college, even though I walked everywhere and really didn’t drive much until I graduated. And now we have five kids and two vehicles and I have to know how to drive or I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my responsibilities with my family. We live outside of town and can’t rely on public transportation, and I wouldn’t want to anyway. Five kids and one mom on a bus sounds absolutely dreadful to me. :-)

  8. Off topic comment. Gabrielle, I have so appreciated your posts about mental health and your openness about your struggles with depression. I am sorry that you have these challenges–please know that your writing about it is really helpful to others! I am curious about how you discuss issues of mental health (yours or more broadly) with your children. I’d love to hear–maybe you would consider it for a topic for a future post? With gratitude-

    1. I’ve had a few requests for this and am trying to put thoughts together, but feeling kind of dumb because I’m not convinced I’m necessarily doing a good job of talking to my kids about it. But I’ll keep working on the post and see what I come up with.

  9. I grew up in Portland, OR where they have an amazing public transit. You can literally get anywhere in the city. My dad drove-but after my parents divorce just before middle school, my mom and I relied solely on public transit. She never got her license. I have my permit, but didn’t get that until I was mid twenties and mostly got it because I had gotten married and was going to change my name. It’s good for two years and I’ve already had to re-up it.
    I really wanted my license in high school when all my friends were getting theirs. I also lived kind of far from my school so it made it difficult (or burdensome to others) for me to do extracurricular things.
    Now, because Portland is so populated and crowded, the idea of driving literally stresses me out. I’ve only driven either in farmland or in the wee hours of the morning. I’ve been in a few car accidents as a passenger and always feel cars are out to get me! I’ve always lived walking distance to a grocery store and/or a transit stop so a car has never been a necessity, just a luxury. My husband drives and his sister lives with us, who has a car, so not there really isn’t much pressure on me to get my license! One day…

  10. My favorite car was also a ’83 Toyota Landcruiser (mine was white). It was the car I drove when I turned 16. Hands down best car ever. Never got a speeding ticket as the car could not go faster than 60 mph before violently shaking and that stick/clutch where you had to thrust your entire body into in order to change gears left me no time to do anything else distracting. Now as our older daughter is approaching 16, I’m seriously considering finding one for her. I still wish I had mine…

  11. What an interesting conversation! My sister is an interesting example — didn’t get a Driver’s License until she was in her 40s. She was really wanting a License in high school, when all of her friends were getting them. However, she didn’t have the grades for insurance discounts, so our parents held out on the License as an incentive to get better grades. After graduation, the urgency dropped off — she got rides with friends or used public transit. Flash thru 24 years: She took driver’s education classes multiple times over the years, but never did the license for whatever reason (e.g., the line at DMV was too long, she didn’t feel like practicing, she didn’t have a good car for the test, etc., etc.). THEN, four years ago, there was a medical emergency in the family and she lost her regular transport to work… then city bus routes changed and her time to work increased by an hour+ each way, plus another mile walk. At which point it became an urgent necessity to her to FINALLY get a license. So she did.

    A couple of observations from her experience —
    1) Social pressure really made a difference in her desire to have a license as a teen. That’s where I think the real change is today — kids are a lot more socially connected without being physically together.
    2) Her FEAR of driving increased as she got older. The longer she waited, the more of a mental obstacle it became. She still avoids the freeway at all costs.
    3) Her ability to be a suburbanite and go without a license was at least 50% dependent on other people having licenses & vehicles and providing her with transportation.
    4) She has commented that she has a lot more freedom to do what she wants, when she wants, now that she has a license and a vehicle of her own. She didn’t think it would make that big of a difference, as she was a pretty proficient public transit user, so was surprised by that.

    We have dear friends in NYC and London who let their licenses expire more than a decade ago, because they just didn’t need them in those cities. However, they’re now moving to a western-USA city and getting new drivers licenses is high on their list! They see there’s clearly a big difference between true Metro City Living and Suburb City Living, not to mention town or county…

    1. I think the #3 you mention is a total reality and I know it would drive me nuts. I have a hard time asking for favors. I just know I would have a huge taxi bill.

  12. I grew up in the countryside so not driving wasn’t really an option – I started learning as soon as I turned 17 (I’m in the UK) and passed my test within six months. I now live in London and haven’t driven in about 4 years – I’m actually a little worried I might not remember how! – but it’s nice to know I have a licence and could if I ever needed to. A lot of my friends who grew up here never learnt as public transport is so good, and are now going through lessons in their 20s or 30s, which I kind of think must be more difficult!

  13. Hi Gabrielle,
    Very interesting. My teenagers do not seem too pushed about driving either but they are still young.
    For information, the French A stands for “apprenti” (apprentice in French) and must be stuck on the car during 3 years following the driving test.
    Here in Ireland, there is a L sticker for “learner” until you get your full licence and then a N sticker for “new driver” during 2 years after the driving test.

      1. In BC (Canada) we have the same (red) L you use during your stage as a learner and a (green) N that you get when you take your road/written test. You can have the N for as long as you want and have to take a secondary road test to get a full license (I was terrified of failing so I kept mine until my license was about to expire) but you have limited rights (ie. only one passenger unless it’s family, no driving after certain hours – these restrictions came into effect after I got my N so they didn’t apply to me. I may have been more inclined to get my full license if I had the same restrictions kids do now.) Kids where I live continue to get their licenses as soon as possible because things are farther away and the public transit just isn’t adequate.

        I’ve been in a few accidents (as a passenger) and am sort of stereotypical in that I don’t like to drive at night or in inclement weather, and basically I just don’t enjoy it in general, so my husband has the “chore” of driving unless he’s too tired (and I always drive the babysitter home – even if I’m very tired!)

  14. Not having a license isn’t an option for me in suburban Minnesota. There is no public transportation in our area. Uber hasn’t made it to us yet, either.
    We have 3 vehicles. 2 commuter cars that my husband and I drive to work each day – a 2005 Impala and a 2008 impala. We also own a 2007 mini van that we use as a family because we cannot fit 2 adults and 4 children in either of our impala’s. I love cars, but am not picky about what I drive. As long as its reliable and has a good heater, I’m happy.
    I love the idea of signage letting everyone know there is a new driver in the vehicle. I know when a see a drivers ed. car with “Student Driver” on the back, I give them a wider berth.

  15. I think it may vary a lot based on where you live. I got my license just before my 17th birthday (in New York state), which was about 5 years ago. I lived in a small town and there is no public transportation. Without a license, it would have been very hard to hang out with my friends, who mostly lived in the countryside surrounding my town.

  16. Super interesting topic–having gotten my license right when I turned 16 and having kids that are nowhere near driving age yet, I hadn’t really thought much about how car/driving culture is changing. I felt as you did when it was time for my license. It connected me to everything, and I loved the freedom of driving. I also loved (and still do) the very act of driving. As a teenager I used to take long drives by myself or with a friend, just for fun. Now, between my husband and I, whenever we drive anywhere I’m the person behind the wheel. I normally drive an automatic, but he taught me how to drive a stick when I was in my early 20s and I absolutely love our manual transmission Mazda.

    All that said, walkability has always been appealing and important to me in neighborhoods. We recently moved to a new neighborhood that we felt was much more walkable than our last. So I guess I love to have the option to walk places, but also truly enjoy driving. I do consider it part of my identity (I’m SUPER proud of my parallel parking ability). I’m really curious about how my kids will feel about it…

    1. I just want to second everything you said here! :) I used to just ride around and around as a teenager, listening to music, and I have zero fear with parallel parking. I do LOVE walkability in an area though; if I can walk to it, I do.

    2. Though I remember loving driving as a teen and into my early twenties, sometime about kids number 3 or 4, my love for it almost evaporated. Not totally sure what happened. Maybe parenting and driving at the same time felt like multi-tasking (which I’m awful at)?

  17. We’ve lived in mostly urban areas with decent public transit. For most of this time we’ve had one car and my husband bikes to work (or rides the bus), while I use the car with our three kids.

    I’m not a huge fan of the one car system, but he is.

    I really like it when we have two cars. It distributes the load of household work and child care better when I can rely on my husband to pick up some groceries on the way home, or take some kids to an activity while I run some separate errand. When he’s on his bike, it’s more complicated to ask him to do these things. Also, he spends more time commuting and showering and packing various outfits so that he can bike in the first place.

    Of course, if I were the one on the bike, I’d probably think it was a pretty good deal, too.

  18. I think that driving is a good skill to have.

    But I’ve noticed this trend too….we live in Indiana, so it may not be just the California traffic. It could be linked to phones…that’s an interesting take that I’ve never thought of. Although, I think that some of it may depend on how walk-able your city is. We don’t have much public transportation, and in our suburb we don’t really have sidewalks…and I’ve still noticed this trend. I’ve also noticed that more and more that after high school, kids live at home more and more. When I was that age, I couldn’t wait to “get out”.

    It’s definitely a different generation from mine. I’m only 37…

  19. In my state we’re able to get our license at the age of 16 and only if you’ve had a learner’s permit for 6 months. I was so excited to drive and gain independence that I tried to be the first one in the door at the DMV the morning of day I was eligible to get my permit. This was in 2004. My friends and I all had cell phones and were on AIM regularly, but we enjoyed communicating in person more than via a device. I think it must depend on your kids’ schedules and the means of transportation available. The biggest reason for me getting my license as soon as I could was independence and my desire to not have my parents shuttle me around. I felt so cool driving myself anywhere and everywhere. Luckily, my parents were also able to swing it so that that year, my mom got a new car and I got her old car. Also, I think my parents saw it as a huge convenience. They didn’t have to drive me to all of my after-school activities, appointments, and friends’ houses. Another huge factor was my parents gave me my mom’s old car under the condition I got an after-school job to help pay for gas/insurance. I guess if your kids don’t have jobs, they have a lot less obligations, but if that means they’re using Uber to go places, who’s paying for it? I had one or two friends who for whatever reason didn’t get their licenses when they turned 16 and I actually felt a bit offended that they sort of saw all their other friends as their personal chauffeurs. Sure, they would often offer to help pay for gas when they were given a ride, but it seemed so needy and dependent to me – two qualities I can’t stand, at least in myself.

  20. My question is at what age can you assert fine, don’t get your license if you don’t want to, but I’m not going to spend my time driving you around anymore. I see my friends with older teens spending at least a couple hours a day driving them to jobs, activities, etc. My younger teens don’t seem interested in getting a driving license, but I’m leaning toward having the consequence of that be that they need to figure out how they get places themselves. (Not that I’d never drive them anywhere, but I wouldn’t want them to depend on me daily for rides to and from their job, etc.). Is that unreasonable?

    1. Great question. My teens have good public transit options to their schools. But we still end up doing more driving than we would like (which is why we’re thinking about that 2nd car).

  21. I’m in my thirties and still don’t have a license–I do wish I’d gone ahead and gotten one when I was 16, but now, like an earlier poster said, it’s starting to seem like too big of an obstacle, that and I like walking everywhere.

  22. Gabrielle, what a great question!
    The French A means “apprenti”, so “apprentice” and you must keep it for 3 years, or 2 if you did “conduite accompagnée”, which means you learn how to drive and can drive with your parents, never alone or with a buddy, until you’re 18 and can take the actual driver’s test. A lot of teenagers do it.
    We are a 2-car household but are considering switching to one car + an electric bike for me (I work across the street from where I live, and the bike would need to be electric bc we live in the Alps!) WHen my kids can use the bus to and from town to meet friends and go to school, we’ll probably switch.
    For me too, driving meant freedom, still does!

  23. Very interesting topic! I got mine at 35… I grow up at the countryside in northen Sweden, but moved to a city at 18 (the legal age to get a licence in Sweden) with good public transportation. Then I went to the university, which ment no money left for driving lessons (the averege cost for a licence in Sweden was $2.000 then and close to $3.500 today). Later I lived in a even bigger city for 10 years, still no no need for it (quite common even then actually). It was with a wish to move to the countryside that the need became real.

  24. Interesting! My parents deliberately chose to live downtown in a small city so that we kids could walk, bike, or bus to school, music lessons, the library, etc. on our own, and we didn’t even have a second car until half the eight siblings were already grown up.

    Given that, to me, what you’re describing doesn’t sound like freedom at all. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to have had no free mobility of my own until 16. I’d been going all kinds of places on my own for many years by then.

    Besides which, my parents certainly didn’t have the spare cash sitting around to get extra cars for teenagers to use. Which brings up another point: isn’t it kind of a bogus form of independence if the parents are bankrolling it, which presumably they nearly always are (i.e., the vehicle, the maintenance, the gas, the insurance)? Wouldn’t that contribute to teenagers acting entitled and irresponsible – giving them an illusion of adult independence that someone else is actually paying for? How do you avoid them feeling it’s something they’re owed?

    I now live in a city/suburban area very much built for cars at the expense of pedestrians or any other kind of travellers, and I hate it! I’m very struck by how car-oriented suburbs like ours make both children and the elderly into virtual prisoners, completely dependent on a driver to get them around. That’s a big chunk of the population to leave out of consideration in city planning, if you ask me!

  25. We moved to South Dakota recently where kids can start driving at 14 and you can bet our elementary-aged kids are already planning on it. One of their classmates was in our town parade last weekend driving an antique tractor. I’m sure if we living in a populous city, they’d have a different expectation.

    1. Wow! That’s kind of scary. 16 already seems startlingly young to operate a potentially lethal weapon like a car. But 14? I’ll have to remember never to move to South Dakota!

      1. Hah! 14 is not unusual in rural western states. I don’t know if it’s still true, but I remember learning it was because farmers needed their kids to be able to help with the farmwork — which includes driving trucks and farm equipment.

        1. I guess that makes sense. Also less scary: a kid driving a truck or tractor or ATV through their dad’s fields to do a job in a distant field = not scary. But a 14-year-old kid driving 65 mph on a highway = scary, in my opinion.

  26. I think it’s definitely changing. I think it probably also has a lot to do with where you live, too.
    Growing up in Texas, I got my learner’s permit as soon as I could (at 15 1/2) and went and took my driver’s test and got my license before school on the morning of my 16th birthday. That was almost 20 years ago, but I’d imagine it’s still much the same in the city I grew up in, which has a very limited public transportation structure–although from what I hear Uber is starting to catch on.

    Now I live in a suburb of DC. We have a robust public transportation network and outrageously high car insurance rates. My husband and I were a one-car (well, one-truck) couple for several years while I was in graduate school and able to use a convenient bus route for my commute. Now we’re a two-car family because I don’t want to deal with dragging our two kids and their gear around on the bus/metro on a regular basis. Nowadays my husband cycles to work most mornings, though, so often his truck just sits in our driveway. But it’s a pickup truck that he uses regularly for chores on the weekends. If we could somehow combine the functionality of his truck with the functionality of a family-sized vehicle, I think we could go back to being a one-car family, with me using the car during the week to trek the kids around and my husband using it on the weekends for his chores, or all of us going out together.
    I have absolutely zero interest in cars, and literally only care that my car can get me safely from Point A to Point B. Each time we’ve shopped for a car we’ve chosen based on features and price with no regard to the “message” our vehicle might send about us. It just doesn’t matter to me. We also only buy used cars and have never considered buying new.

    My kids are at least a decade away from driving age, but my husband and I have already decided that our rule will be that if they want to take public transportation to get around, we’ll cover the cost, but if they insist on owning a car they are going to have to pay for it themselves. In fact, as the kids get older I may even get rid of my car and go back to cycling/public transportation/maybe ZipCar. I definitely prefer that to owning and maintaining my own car.
    It seems that many kids here don’t get their drivers license until they are older. I have a few local friends in the 30s and 40s who have never learned how to drive at all. I do think that does limit them at times, so I believe in teaching driving as a basic life skill (at least until self-driving cars become ubiquitous…my dream, as I HATE driving!). I think I’ll encourage the kids to wait until they are 18 to learn, though. Now that I’m a parent, 15 seems so young!
    Two of my local friends have teenage children, both of whom get around by bus and Uber. One kid is just now learning to drive at 18 because he’s moving to a rural area for college later this month and will need a car there. If he wasn’t moving, I don’t think he’d bother with it.

  27. Chiming in from the deep South: Cars are a total necessity here! There is virtually no public transit, even in major cities, and very sporadic access to things like Uber/Lyft. (Some local school systems are even exploring reducing school bus access.) So kids get their licenses as soon as they can.

    (It can be a major employment barrier around here, particularly for low income families. If you don’t have a car/license and there’s no public transit, how can you get to work? If you can’t get to work and hold down a job, how do you afford a car?)

    1. So true. Depending on where you live, cars can still be 100% necessary. And I hear you on the low-income/no car issue. Sometimes it feels like we take someone who is down on their luck and then make life as hard a possible for them.

      1. So well put. I totally agree. And I think this question in particular is hard to grasp from the other vantage point, especially around here. Thanks for the great discussion!

  28. I think a lot of it is due to phones. I do sometimes wonder if kids like their parents more, too, haha. I was ready to be out! I grew up in a small Texas town, started driving my grandparents car around on country roads (with them in the car) at 13, got my learners a month after I turned 15, and my license the day I turned 16. My family still lives in the small town, and my younger cousins still don’t drive (17 and 18). I don’t understand it; if nothing else, I wanted a break from my parents!

    I’m now 34 and live in a city with little public transportation, so cars are a must. I’d be happy if they weren’t though, and I do like the idea of zip car or something. A Tesla is in my 5 year plan, so yes to self-driving as well (even though I’ll of course be paying attention as well)!

  29. I’m surprised that the environmental impact of driving and the political impact of being oil-dependent haven’t been mentioned here. To me, choosing to drive and own a car are environmental and political choices that are made in a matrix of other factors – money, public transportation, commute, etc.

    1. It really hasn’t been mentioned much, has it? I wonder if it’s because in huge swaths of the country (basically anywhere outside a city), cars are still an essential. So the environmental question becomes what type of car to drive, not whether or not to drive a car. Just a theory!

  30. In South Africa, kids usually get their learner’s licence at 17 (and then the L has to be displayed, and a fully licensed driver needs to drive with them always) and full licence at 18.

    I went to school a year early so I was too young when all my peers were getting their driver’s licences, and then I went away to university (a walking campus) and never bothered til I turned 25 and wanted a job that wasn’t limited to being on the bus route :)

    Still, driving in Jhb is horrendous and I would happily Uber all my days but our long distances don’t make it a sensible option. I do Uber within about a 7 – 8 km radius to see clients :) Although if I have to drive, podcasts and Audible help a lot.

  31. Like learning to swim, for my kids, learning to drive isn’t an option. And whether, as adults, they choose to drive or not, they will drive while still in high school and living with me.

    I also live in the Bay Area and both of my teens got their license within a month of their sixteenth birthday. They are responsible for getting themselves to jobs, school and social activities. I also rely on them to help me run errands and to take younger siblings to practices and lessons.

  32. The cost of insuring teenage drivers, especially for families with multiple teens in their households, is prohibitive for many, if not most families. As a single parent, the only way I could afford to insure my teen drivers was that I had the dumb luck of having them ten years apart. Yes, I think driving is a life skill, but it is also one that is increasingly beyond the grasp of struggling families.

  33. This is interesting because my 19 yo daughter is going to be a sophomore in college and desperately wants her license which we are now working on! We live in a rural area but with the “Great Recession” and multiple job losses the funds just weren’t available even for gas to spend time learning. I’ve also noticed just in the 20+ years since I was in school driver’s education is no longer offered as standard curriculum, so parents are in charge of both the physical and book learning. Does anyone else remember drivers Ed being standard or at least and elective you could pay for? In my opinion it does seem to be combination to of more parents being outside of the home working with less time to teach and not a priority with incomes being reduced. What an interesting topic and one that is discussed a lot in our home!

  34. I failed my test a few times at 16/17 and quit for more then a decade. Bus and train or just walking in the cities I lived in worked. And we kept picking places to live that did not need a car. I pushed a double Bob stroller to preschool with three kids the coldest snowiest winter in Chicago and everyone in our town seamed to know me for it. I got driving lessons for my thirtieth birthday and got my license easily. By which time I had a house and three kids. We bought our first car, a mini van that year. And I miss walking everywhere. But love driving to Costco and target.

  35. This is such an interesting topic! I for one hate to drive and only got my license at 30 right before I had my son. I worked in the opposite direction of our sitter and it was too much of a hassle taking public transport. I appreciate the freedom of driving but really prefer being driven around town! It’s safer to people watch that way.

  36. I’ve lived in Columbus, Ohio my whole life and we have a so-so bus system. I rode it everywhere when I was single. I got my license two weeks before my 30th birthday. It took that long because I was traumatized at the age of 15 by witnessing the death of my half-brother; he was only five years old and was hit by a van in front of our house, dying immediately. I am not fond of driving at all. I am on my second Toyota Corolla; the first one, a 1987 model purchased used, lasted until the summer of 2006. I hope my current Corolla lasts that long as well.

    My daughter, my only child, turned 29 last month and still does not have a license, nor does she seem interested in one. I have been sick the last three years and occasionally joke with her that she needs to get one so she can drive me to the doctor’s office when things get worse. We’ll see…

  37. I got my license at 16 like everyone else around me, but my parents never paid extra insurance for me (they considered letting me use the car like letting a neighbor use the car, and they figured the car was insured so they didn’t bother paying extra for a teen driver).

    Four years ago, our (my husband and I’s) car broke down and we haven’t had a car since. I was pregnant with our 3rd at the time and got a really great bike to trek the kids around. We also use public transit. It’s actually really important to me for my kids to learn public transit. When we are at the 19th St. BART station, I quiz them, “The tiles of this station are blue- which station are we at?” At the 12th St. station, “The tiles here are red- which station is this?” I want my kids to be able to get around even if they can’t see/read the signs. Public transit means they have to be around a greater diversity of people- age, race, ability. Biking is similar- there’s no barrier between you and the world. I know I’ve stopped in a street and helped address a fight when I was on my bike that I know I wouldn’t have stopped for if I was in a car.

    We do use Zipcar occasionally, but it’s a pain with carseats. You have to bring them with you and if you have 3 carseats, that’s kind of a pain. It also adds up fast, but I think that’s good because you pay more attention to how much you spend. When we had a car, gas and insurance added up fast, but we never really paid attention to it. We spend less now with the Zipcar, but every dollar is accounted for.

    If we had a car, we probably would not have been able to buy a house. Grateful for that.

    1. Oh- another benefit- public transit/biking makes you plan your week well. There’s no “Oh, I’ll run to the supermarket tonight before bed” if the bus doesn’t run very often at that time. We are very deliberate about saving enough time for biking or bus transfers. I like that we show our kids how to plan to be prepared for the unexpected. I’ve only been late to important things once or twice in the past 4 years without a car and I credit it to the planning required from being carfree.

      I am also a much more careful driver now that we bike everywhere. It’s been a good reminder that a car is a 2 ton weapon- and one that many drivers get away with murder: “I didn’t see them, it was an accident” is really common along with the victim blaming of “were they wearing a helmet?” Every time I drive, I think, “I could kill someone with this. I must be more careful.” I did not think like that prior to going carfree. I am much more aware around crosswalks, sidewalks (going in/out of driveways), etc. Cars are really unsafe compared to my other options of the bus or bike.

  38. It’s interesting to here how other countries denote new drivers. In Japan (where we live), new drivers-no matter their age-have a green and yellow magnet on their car that must remain for a year. I think it’s fantastic. Also, elderly drivers (I can’t remember the age, but somewhere past 60) have a yellow and orange magnet to help other drivers identify them, as they sometimes have peculiar driving habits.
    In Japan you can’t get a license until you are 18 and the tests are incredibly strict. Also, public transportation here is pretty amazing. Consequently, a lot of people don’t get licenses. A good friend of mine only recently got hers. She took the written test several times before passing and took the driving test at least three times before passing. You have to attend driving school in order to pass, and depending on the school, you could end up forking out a thousand or more dollars to get a license.
    I think the end result (in addition to the considerably lower speed limits) is that Japan has a very safe driving culture. In the six years I’ve lived here I can count on my hands how many accidents I’ve seen, and most were just fender benders. I’d see as many accidents in two weeks living in Texas, Nevada, and Utah.

  39. I got my licence aged 24 for a special job. Before I lived in a bigger city and didn’t need a car, as public transport here in Germany is quite good, especially in the cities.

    Nowadays, 30 years later, I share a car with my significant other, but the car is scarcely moved during the week, as we both use public transport to work. Not really commuting, we both drive ca. 20 minutes across Hamburg. By car, it would a) take longer and b) be terribly stressful, as Hamburg is full of commuters by car. Parking is a problem as well. Once you found a decent and legal parking spot in your street, you’d certainly think twice before moving the car again ;-). I’d happily give up my car for good, but my partner is not yet prepared to do so. Nevertheless, I think, driving is definitely a life-skill.

    My absolute favorite is car sharing, I like to use car-to-go, which is just so very handy. Just look for a smart with you app, rent it via app, drive to where you want to (in the city-area) and drop the car at your destination. For your return, repeat as desired. This may be the future and replace private cars in bigger cities.

  40. I come from small town MN, so driving was essential. I got my license the day after I turned 16, as did all my friends. Things are really spaced out in MN, and there is horrible public transportation. Well not in the city, but generally in the outlying suburbs and country.
    I don’t know anyone in MN with out a driver’s license. Even my grandpa drove up until he passed away in his 90’s. Driving is a huge part of life here, with all the good and the bad.

  41. Several surveys here in Germany have shown that young adults are more interested in owning a good smart phone than getting a driving license much less a car! Especially in the cities – not so much in the country. Here for quite a few years now you can start taking driving lessons with 16 1/2 and acquire a license for “accompanied driving” with 17. Meaning you can drive but only with a pre-registered driver (over a certain age, without any black marks, mostly parents) sitting next to you until you receive your “real” license on your 18th birthday.
    I had many a cringing drive with my son, with my right foot permanently pushing the floor and my hands just short of grabbing the wheel! But it is a good system. He only passed his license shortly before his 18th birthday so only had 2 months accompanied driving. I know some parents who absoutely refuse to accompany their child – too stressful for them…..
    I got my license the old way just after my 18th birthday and with 19 bought my 1st car a Renault 4 (like the one you have in some of your photos), with which I drove from Brunswick to Amsterdam and back. One epic journey was also from Brunswick north Germany to Barcelona in a half automatic VW Beetle.
    at the moment I drive a 26 year old Golf II still going strong!

  42. My oldest will get her learner’s permit soon and her license at 16. She’s looking forward to it and so am I. I guess I feel like as a parent it’s my job to send my kids out into the world as prepared and self-sufficient as possible. I would much rather have her learn how to drive here in our hometown where she’s familiar with the streets and we can coach/supervise her than wait till she’s moved out. I think the couple years of practice and being a novice driver would be more stressful later on in life when you will be confronting all sorts of other challenges like college, parenthood, etc.

  43. In New Zealand when you first start learning you have to display L-plates on the front and back windscreen. I just googled and in New Jersey, effective May 1, 2010, drivers under the age of 21 holding a learner’s permit detachable red decals on the front and back license plates of their vehicles. So one state does it in the US!

  44. I have always loved vintage Renaults too, and Citroens but have never owned either. So impractical but what beauty! Which is far more important to me than reliability! My two favourite cars that I have owned are my MiniMoke (in my 20s – such fun) and my BMW2002. Divine. Sadly they are long gone and I have a sensible car. So boring though. It doesn’t even have a name.

  45. Interesting questions and comments. I would love to wake up to find my city had transformed to a self-driving, shared car community. It would be a dream come true in many ways.

    I have had a driver’s license since age 17 in a state when 16 years was the minimum age. Most of my friends took their behind-the-wheel test on their 16th birthday. Some were given their own car on the same day. I was a reluctant driver and didn’t feel like a competent driver until I was in my mid-20’s because I didn’t drive often until I was working full-time. I’ve never worried about my car and self-image. I like a reliable car that fits my family’s needs, so I’ve stuck to two and four-door sedans. I would love to use a self-driving car! Driving is fun at times but usually a necessary chore.

    I have one child who is at the age where a driver’s license is within reach. It is not much of a priority at the moment. I agree that this is an important life skill, but it can wait for now. Walking, biking, electric scooter, car rides with friends and family provide enough options. I would like our family to start using the bus service in our community. A first part-time job this summer does mean I am doing more chauffeuring for my child, and we are ok with that. My child is excited to open a new bank account when that first paycheck arrives, and I can see myself creating an automatic direct deposit allowance for expenses like Uber in the future.

  46. My husband has severe vision loss and hasn’t been able to drive in 6 years. This effects our life in every way. Although we live in NYC and barely drive his disability means we will always have to live in a city. Knowing that we cannot move is hard and influences so many of our life decisions- everything from our kid’s education to where we travel etc. It is strange to know we will most likely never move simply because he cannot drive. It is that simple. It sucks for him to have to ask others to drive him everywhere when we are out of the city- it is rough on his ego for starters. When we are out of the city any time we run out of milk or need to take a kid to a lesson- he feels badly that I have to do it. Asking someone who is disabled and cannot drive what it is like to not be able to drive is such a different way to look at driving. The disability population- for the most part- can’t wait for driverless cars!

  47. Interesting. I don’t know if I’d be excited to have my kids driving in Oakland, but my niece in Southern Utah doesn’t have her license nor do seem inspired to get it. Um, that was the thing to do growing up there and most everywhere USA. Also, my BIL is a stake president in Alabama and the kids there were having the problem of not doing that either. So… Not a city problem. It’s got to be a connectivity thing. Also, it’s a maturity thing. They don’t seem to want to take on the responsibilities. As soon as I could drive, I was running errands for my mom all the time.

  48. So interesting that you would write on this. My oldest (17 1/2) doesn’t seem in a hurry to take his driving exam. He has done all the other requirements, and has had his learners since he turned 16. We joke that my 15-year-old will end up getting his license first.

  49. Growing up in the sticks of South Dakota, we were able to get our learners permit at the age of 14, but with restrictions on what hours you could drive and had to have a fully licensed occupant. Also first moving violation and your permit was revoked until 16. I accomplished that pretty much right away.
    I think getting your DL is just like anything else. It loses its pizazz once you can legally do it or obtain it. I mean who didn’t drink underage and when you finally turned that magical 21….snorville. I can see where the big cities I would not be as excited as someone living in a rural area, so I guess it is all geographical .

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