Driverless Cars Don’t Smell Like Teen Spirit

Autonomous vehicles may reduce teen driving accidents, but will they also rob a generation of their freedom?

Getting that driver’s license is a rite of passage for most teenagers. At 16 or 17, driving means freedom, coming at that perfect age that sits between adolescence and adulthood.

But the fact is that teenagers are terrible drivers. Between the ages of 16-19, they’re more than 4 times likely to get into accidents than the average adult. They’re also more likely to drive distracted or recklessly, dangerous when combined with their inexperience.

States have tried to curb teen driving accidents by passing tougher restrictions. In Connecticut, newly licensed drivers can’t have any passengers for the first 6 months, except an adult over 20-years-old who has held a license for at least 4 years. In Minnesota, the passenger needs to be at least 25- years-old, and driving is prohibited between midnight to 5 a.m.

But perhaps the best way to keep teen drivers safe is to not let them drive at all. Through the ages, driving was a rite of passage. But with the advent of driverless technology, teens won’t need to get behind the wheel at all.

  Related: Needed? Age restrictions on kids riding solo in self-driving cars

Nanny Controls In Cars

Already, many technologies today track a teen driver’s movements and speed. GPS squashes – or at least makes it harder – for teens to get away with some of the stunts prior generations pulled (say, using the excuse of “just driving to the library”).

What happens when a new generation of nanny controls arrive?

Driverless cars for tomorrow will be tricked out with all sorts of sensors that will deprive teens of freedoms.

For one, driverless vehicles will cruise at prescribed speed limits. They’ll also make it easy to restrict the number of passengers in a car (smile for the camera!). GPS technology makes it possible to limit the geographic area a car can travel. Or perhaps strict parents will set a teen’s car with a curfew time – think a kill switch that turns the car into a pumpkin! You’ll have to call home for a lift.

  Related: To Err Is Human. We Can Stop That.

Gen Z Will Redefine Freedom

But while driverless cars will provide teens more free time since they won’t be driving, what about the freedom they crave?

No doubt, youth culture and car culture have been intertwined for decades. Back in the day, Boomers used their cars to cruise boulevards or catch a flick at the drive-in. Gen Xers used their cars to individualize themselves, either with bumper stickers, sub-woofers and spoilers. You remember MTV’s Pimp My Ride.

And yet, Millennials and their younger siblings, Generation Z-ers, show how the tide is shifting. A report from the Highway Loss Data Institute says that from 1983 to 2010 the share of 17-year-olds with a driver’s license declined from 69 percent to 46 percent.

The thrill of drag racing or doing doughnuts just isn’t the type of adrenaline rush younger generations crave. A study from Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book reveals that Generation Z places more importance on safety features than other generations did in their teen years: Gen Z teens (43 percent), followed by Millennials as teenagers (25 percent), Gen X as teenagers (11 percent) and Baby Boomers as teenagers (9 percent).

If driverless cars and restrictive technology morph the ultimate symbol of teen freedom into just another controlled environment, tomorrow’s teens will no doubt find another way to get their kicks. After all, while automobiles were the technology of freedom for older generations, ride-sharing services like Uber or ZipCar provide mobility without the hassle of ownership.

Of course, teens today live on the information superhighway, where thrills and dangers persist. Parents can try to monitor Internet use, but the next generation will do what other generations did before them: push the boundaries of independence.

No matter what technology is invented to curb it.

   Article written by MG Rhodes.  Submitted 2/22/17

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