When I was a teen, you could identify high-school dropouts by the cars they drove. Nice ones, often sporty, shiny and new.
In contrast, kids who stayed in school typically drove old beaters or uncool family cars on a parental-loan basis.
But after leaving school prematurely, drop outs usually went to work in low-end jobs, yet ones that provided money for new wheels – if someone were willing to devote the lion’s share of earnings to car payments.
Unfortunately, plenty of under-educated kids did and do that.
We might soon spot drop outs for a much different reason: as people without cars because potential laws bar them from getting a driver’s license. (For most motorists, but alas not some scofflaws, a driver’s license is a prerequisite for driving.)
Here is what looms in the legislative horizon. Lawmakers in some states want to link driving privileges to school attendance.
Proposed “no-driver’s-licenses-for-dropouts” laws are gaining public support. About 68% of drivers back such legislation, says national polling by PSCars.com, an automotive consumer website.
States with the most grass-roots support are Georgia, Texas, Massachusetts, New York and Michigan.
The least support comes from California, Illinois, Florida, Ohio and Washington DC.
The legislative proposals are well-intended, but risk coming across as nanny laws. Should government take on the role of the parent?
“Ultimately, the children’s parents should have the final decision to revoke driving privileges,” says Hernan Jaramillo, a vice president at Practical Systems Inc., PSCars.com’s parent firm.
Yet, license deprivation is a way to get kids’ attention, he adds. “We have to find a way to discourage students from dropping out. It’s a step in the right direction to remove what most high school students crave the most, a driver's license.”
John Duffy, a clinical psychologist and parenting expert, is not so sure, citing what he has seen from parent-child interaction.
“A punishment rarely creates a desired behavior, and, in the case of forcing a child to remain in school, will not help intrinsically motivate that child either,” he says
Auto makers and dealers haven’t officially weighed in, but presumably this issue conflicts them.
On one hand, yanking driving privileges from any group means fewer prospective car buyers.
But auto makers constantly aim their products at educated consumers. Demographically, you never hear automotive marketers talk about trying to reach the drop-out crowd.
Meanwhile, dealers say “educated” consumers often are easier to work with; they know what’s what, speed up the buying process and spend more.
About 3 million young people, age 16 to 24, were not enrolled in high school and had not earned a high school diploma or its equivalent, says the U.S. Department of Education. Those inadequately educated youths represent 8% of their age group.
It sure would benefit just about everybody to lower their numbers. What is less certain is whether society should try to do that with a carrot, stick or combination thereof.