No one learns to drive anymore. They’re too busy texting.

When you and I think about texting and driving, we contemplate, with contempt, how texting distracts us from the very important work of driving. But there’s a generation that sees it the other way around: driving is an annoying distraction from texting.

And that’s why self-driving cars will be the norm by 2025.

So sayeth Jamey D. Jacob, Ph.D. Jacob is a mechanical and aerospace engineer who runs the Unmanned Systems Research Institute up the road at Oklahoma State University. Jacob has a particular interest in how technology, especially driverless cars and pilotless aircraft, affects us socially.

On June 1, 1977, there were two things on my mind. I was looking forward to seeing Gavin MacLeod and Debbie Reynolds in “Annie Get Your Gun,” which was touring, and I couldn’t wait to get to the DMV to get my driver’s license.

Okay, to be honest, there were three things on my mind, but a 16-year-old boy being distracted by a girl is a common and chronic affliction so it doesn’t really count.

Getting a driver’s license on the day you became eligible was the thing to do; let a week pass and friends would start to get suspicious. As Tai said to Cher in “Clueless,” the 1995 teenybopper romcom, “Why am I even listening to you to begin with? You’re a virgin who can’t drive.”

Ouch. Girls can be so mean.

It’s become fashionable to study why so many people are putting off getting a license. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 85 percent of high school seniors had a license in 1996 but in 2010 that had fallen to 73 percent. That same year a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety concluded that even fewer teens were driving. The foundation reported that only 44 percent of teenagers got their licenses within a year of eligibility, and at age 18, only 54 percent had a license.

The teenagers offer a short list of reasons. They cite not having a car, the cost, and a lack of need most often. But the experts blame, or credit, the internet. In my day, access to a car meant freedom, which really meant the means to hang out with friends. Never mind talking; much of that socialization now takes place through text messages and social media apps. When the social connection is instantaneous and can occur remotely, there’s less drive to drive.

One must assume that’s a relief to nervous parents. And Allstate.

Real freedom isn’t the ability to drive anymore, it’s the ability to not drive. About 15 years ago, when George Riggs, the Big Boss at a group of Bay Area newspapers had to travel an hour to lay off a significant number of people, he was ridiculed for showing up in a limousine. But Riggs knew then what we’re just figuring out now  — that if you have a laptop and you don’t have to do the driving you can get an awful lot of work done on the way.

Never mind the laptop. This is 2019 and there can be a lot of socializing through Facebook and Instagram during a one-hour drive that doesn’t require looking through the windshield. Really, it doesn’t even require a windshield.

The real change isn’t car bots. It’s our children’s and grandchildren’s view of the world and you and I are looking in the rearview mirror.

On the bright side, we’re not texting while we’re doing it.

 

© Ted Streuli 2019

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