This past weekend, I was able to head back home for the first time after moving into college almost a month ago. The time has really flown by, and it sometimes still feels odd to have been living in a new place for a while. I didn’t bring a car with to campus, and so my dad picked me up outside the dorm before handing over the keys. Taking the wheel, I realized I hadn’t driven in almost a month. That was a shocking realization, considering how constant driving has been to me since I turned 16.
It’s been three years now since I obtained my driver’s license, in September of 2015, and I remember that feeling of nervousness turned to excitement as the DVS tester announced I had passed the road test. Months of classes and logging driving hours had finally paid off, and that freedom of driving a car that people here in the United States always talk about was finally accessible to me.
This is not to say I was going to go crazy with this newfound privilege. Driving is a serious matter, especially considering the prevalence of car accidents. I made sure to always know where I was going, obey speed limits and stay aware when dealing with other drivers. My phone, as common sense dictates, would stay in my pocket.
Covering for safety, the possibilities and autonomy allowed by driving were endless. There was no more having to rely on a parent for pickup following an extracurricular activity after school. I could get a regular job and have a schedule of my own to follow to get there on time. I could run errands if I needed to without asking for someone to drive me there. It was a truly liberating feeling.
Since this is so ingrained into our culture, the driving age of 16 and ensuing freedom that results through the end of high school, I think we can almost take it for granted. When I visited Germany last summer, I experienced a very different world than what we have here. To start, their driving age is 18, and their hour and monetary commitments are much heavier than ours. This includes a first-aid course, required class time instruction, theory and road test, and an average cost of almost $2,000 U.S.
As a result, and since Germany is in many ways a more urbanized, compact country than us, many young people have little to no need for driver’s licenses. Especially in the big cities, many options of public transportation are used instead. Many never get that “joy of the open road” early in life and some don’t even purchase a car.
And that might be a growing trend here, as some studies have shown the number of high schoolers getting driver’s licenses has fallen during the last few years. That’s a statistic that really stood out to me, considering my own feelings about driving. I suppose some might say lazy young people may be blamed, but the requirements and cost of obtaining a license have gone up steadily throughout the years, and so it might no longer be practical for some, especially with alternatives growing in many places.
From my point of view, driving, ever since Henry Ford put in within reach of the masses with the Model T, is a quintessentially American tradition. It extends from our national character. We are ambitious, fun-loving and adventurous people, and so being able to go from place to place made us even more autonomous than before. Traditions such as road trips and camping were developed from those first cars, and have been a part of the national fabric ever since. So the next time you turn those keys into the ignition, be sure to remember your first experience behind the wheel, that thrill of newfound freedom. I do, and it’s a memory I will always have with me.
Connor Kockler is a student at St. John’s University. He enjoys writing, politics, and news, among other interests.