Road Ahead

Baby, You Can Drive My Car


A University of Michigan study may find teens in no hurry to get their driver’s licenses, but it's not true in my household.

I had a good laugh when I read about a University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study that finds teens in no hurry to get their driver’s licenses.

Even before the study, I’ve seen evidence this might be true, but not in my household. My 18-year-old daughter got her license when she turned 16 and now commutes from home five days a week to Wayne State University in Detroit, same as I did.

Our newest driver is my son, who turned 16 last month. Every day since getting his license, he’s taken the keys and cruised the neighborhood, staying relatively close to home. The other night, we were low on milk, so he drove to the store.

“Let the errands begin,” he said.

Released last June, the UMTRI study by researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle found only 31% of 16-year-olds had their licenses in 2008, compared with 46% in 1983.

I graduated from high school in 1983 and didn’t know anyone in my class who didn’t have a license. For my wife, it was the same. But she also has lots of family in and around New York City, so the idea that people could survive without a license was not completely foreign, even back then.

I think young people are less inclined to get their licenses today because it’s just plain harder.

When my generation grew up, we took driver’s ed over the summer. There were classroom sessions and gory movies, then practice in parking lots, and then road tests. The process was relatively simple.

Nowadays, at least in Michigan, it takes more than a year. Two educational sessions are required, and many teens take Session 1 in the summer before ninth grade and Session 2 the following summer.

In between, students must drive with their parents for 30 or 40 hours, although I doubt anyone actually keeps track. Young drivers certainly are better prepared than we were. This also might be the last generation that learns old-school how to parallel park, thanks to new technology that can do it for you.

Bottom line is, getting a license, at least in Michigan, is an endurance race for the motivated. And teens today are connected on the Internet, so driving someplace for actual face-to-face contact appears to have lost its luster.

So I’m grateful my kids view their licenses as a path to independence. They know it’s a privilege easily taken away.

To date, with the addition of two young drivers, the only real damage to the Murphy fleet – knock on sheetmetal – was caused by another student who scraped our van in my daughter’s high school parking lot last year.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to the day when my son and daughter both have jobs and can pay for gas themselves, and even save for their own cars.

Yes, the car is so much more than a shuttle from Point A to B.

Beep Beep! Beep Beep! Yeahh!


OK, readers, chime in. Tell us your stories about learning to drive, or teaching your kids to drive. Do any of you have teens reluctant to get behind the wheel?

Discuss this Blog Entry 3

on Jan 26, 2012

Studies show that the youngest teenagers with the least amount of training and supervised driving are most prone to crashes, so even though it's tough on parents, it's a good thing licenses are harder to get these days. Could the drop in young drivers also be a reason fatalities are dropping so precipitously?

on Jan 26, 2012

I kept track Tom. My dad printed a spreadsheet I had to fill in with the odometer reading when I started/finished and the time start/finish as well. Every trip up north from southeast Michigan. Though I got grief from my buddies, I actually tracked mine. Perhaps the drop in young drivers is due to many in Michigan that have readily available public transit, coupled with the drivers training isn't required when you are 18. I believe you just take the written test and then the road test.

on Jan 26, 2012

Well, you're probably a better driver because of it. Yea, I've also heard about that loophole that allows 18-year-old drivers to take the test without any formal training. Quite the racket, if it's true. That frightens me more than handing over the keys to my 16-year-old.

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Drew Winter

Drew Winter is Editor-in-Chief of WardsAuto World magazine and a Senior Editor at He was won numerous awards for his work in both print and digital media and has been...

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is executive editor of WardsAuto World magazine, with an emphasis on technology and suppliers. He leads selection of the Ward’s 10 Best Engines and Ward’s 10 Best Interiors...
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