Replacing cars with cell phones? Give us a break.

Would be trend spotters and, shall we say, enthusiastic… media outlets have announced that the youth of today is replacing driver licenses with cell phone plans. Citing a recent study which showed a correlation between a postponement in driver license registration and an increase of internet and cell phone usage, many have rushed to claim that this means the youth are swapping them out. There is a huge problem with these reports however aside from the fact that correlation doesn’t mean causation.

We recently did a study of our own where, shockingly enough, we actually talked to members of Generation Z and found a very different story. Just as it was for previous generations, we found driving is still viewed as a form of self-expression and independence for Gen Z, as well as another method for them to self-customize their identity. Gen Zers enjoy driving very much; they name their cars, instill personality traits to them, and bond their identities to their cars. They have a lot of pride in their vehicles and sentimental value attached to them, even though they ultimately see their cars as replaceable. If they aren’t driving their family and peers are, public transportation is by large not a viable option nor is it even wanted. Even car share programs like the Zip Car were only seen as desirable as a possible temporary option while in college.

Not only do they love to drive but they also aspire to own larger and more luxurious cars. Although they have concerns about MPG and environment, they want their cars to be mid-size or larger and have luxury options standard. They see a hybrid option and carpooling as a solution to balance their economical and environmental concerns.

So if teenagers are generally just as eager to drive as they ever were, how do we explain what’s going on? Is online connectivity replacing the desire to drive? Not likely. If any sense to be made of this correlation other than coincidental, it would appear that any causation would be reversed in that it is more likely that the lack of driving is increasing the Internet usage. Our findings showed that the decline in driver license application under the age of eighteen is being driven by factors like more stringent state regulations, higher insurance costs, and more governance of parents. To put it simply it has become much more difficult, expensive, and less rewarding to drive a car.

Depending on the state, even if a teen gets a license at 16 they cannot drive their friends around in their cars. Some states have curfews put in place that limit the time of day in which they can drive. Regulations like these coupled with increases in cost of insurance, gas, vehicle price, fewer jobs available to teens, and an increased inability for parents to help out financial suppress the excitement and eagerness of driving, removing a lot of the sense of freedom and adulthood associated with driving. It is no wonder that teens would postpone getting their licenses adapt to fill their social needs via online connectivity. Technology isn’t replacing real world social interactions; it is supplementing it, just as the telephone and television when they started entering everyone’s home.

(Archives coming soon…)