The Power of “Meh”


(Old folks click here for a definition.)

That’s apparently the growing attitude among the young to the idea of owning (or even operating) a car.

I see it with my own 16-year-old daughter. She has shown no interest in getting a driver’s license. Among her peers she is not at all weird for her “meh-ness” concerning driving.

Now she did declare a couple of weeks ago that she was, OK, gonna finally, I guess, get around to, maybe, taking the driver’s test. I happened to peek in her room just yesterday to discover the driver’s manual on her bedroom floor (along with half her belongings) — rumpled and unopened.

From Streetsblog:

Owning a car was once a rite of passage for young Americans on par with algebra and the prom. But, according to a recent report from MSNBC, more young people are sitting out the ritual driver’s tests and the time-honored privilege of getting the keys to a hand-me-down clunker.

The number of young adults between 20 and 24 who are licensed to drive dropped by five percent between 1994 and 2008, down to 82 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Among 16-year-olds, just 31 percent held a driver’s license in 2008, compared to about 42 percent in 1994. Experts attribute the decline not only to a sour economy, but also to a growing ambivalence among younger generations about driving and car ownership more generally.

The post raises two important questions:

  1. What kind of transportation system are they facing with their meh attitude?
  2. If they can sustain this attitude, how might it influence what we build in the years to come?

Now might be a good time to review:

Our Urban Challenge Series:

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Comments 5

  1. robert wrote:

    Compare that to this:

    FYI Barnes is nearly 70 years old.

    I’ve certainly noticed a generational gap in this discussion. Many older folks have the idea that America should be all about automobiles.

    Posted 05 Nov 2010 at 11:51 am
  2. Kevin Love wrote:

    One-third of 16-year-olds have a driver’s license??!!

    I am not such an old fuddy-duddy that I do not remember what I and my friends were like at the age of 16. We definitely lacked the maturity to handle such a lethal weapon as a car.

    But we thought that we had the skills and maturity to pilot an Apollo spacecraft.

    To allow such a young child to handle a car is insane.

    Posted 05 Nov 2010 at 11:51 am
  3. Steve A wrote:

    My 16 year old is a fine and responsible driver. Much better than many 2 or 3x her age. Unlike many motorists, she has much experience learning how to safely pass cyclists.

    Posted 05 Nov 2010 at 4:56 pm
  4. carfreepvd wrote:

    I wonder if the recent trend in “parent chauffeuring” has contributed to the teenagers’ lack of driving. That is, this generation is used to being driven everywhere by their parents – why should they give up such a sweet deal? My parents were very happy to let me drive to school, orchestra, cello lessons, etc once I hit 15 years and got my learner’s permit. This was probably not legal under Kansas learner’s permit law, but they were tired of driving me around.

    In answer to your questions:
    1. A truly meh attitude will get them the status quo.
    2. If they find that they don’t want to use a car all the time, then maybe they will be willing to work for some sort of change. I’ve certainly seen some savvy idealists among this group, so maybe they can build on the changes in attitude that we’ve seen in the last decade.

    or whatever.

    Posted 05 Nov 2010 at 5:03 pm
  5. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… Thanks for that link!

    Kevin and Steve… I suspect the quality of 16-year-old driver depends on the driver and, perhaps, the extent of the graduated license in the given state.

    carfreepvd… I’m with you on those answers. The “parent chauffeuring” thing is interesting. We’ve resisted it for destinations that are walkable and bikeable. But, yes, we have been chauffeuring parents for other destinations.

    Posted 05 Nov 2010 at 5:08 pm