If you grew up when driving was liberating, you probably like driving. If you grew up after those times had come and gone, you are more likely to be indifferent to driving – and for that reason, not especially troubled by the automation of driving.
You may even like it.
It’s a psychological/emotional difference arising from different experiences, especially during one’s growing up years.
Practically everyone who grew up – who reached early adulthood – before the mid-1990s pined for their license to drive, which came around when they were just 15 and change. That was when you could get a learner’s permit in most states. A few months later – when you reached your 16th birthday – you got a full adult license. There were no restrictions on when or where you could drive – or with whom. Which meant you free to drive – with your friends – anywhere, anytime. In other words, you became an acknowledged adult at 16 – at least insofar as your mobility was concerned.
This was a clear line dividing kids from those who no longer were. If you had a car, you were no longer riding a bike. Or being driven around by mom. You probably drove to school. The kids waited for the bus.
It was empowering.
It was also a little intimidating, because as a general rule most of the cars available to teenagers in the ‘80s and earlier were not easy to drive. You usually had to do several things besides just put the gear selector in Drive, to drive. Usually, there was a clutch and it was never hydraulically assisted, as modern clutches are. It was a purely mechanical thing and it took a while to master driving – without stalling. There was no such thing as a hill holder clutch, either. One of the things you had to master – it was once part of the test they gave new drivers – was starting out smoothly on an uphill grade. Without rolling backward into the car behind your car.
There was no anti-lock brakes or stability control, either. It was up to you to control the car and this inculcated respect for driving one. Once you could, you felt like an adult. And in a very real sense, you were – even though you didn’t become legally adult for another two years.
We – those of us who expereinced the above – were also primed to want to drive from years of enjoying the drive, even if it wasn’t us behind the wheel. Because we weren’t strapped down, as everyone who came of age since the mid-1990s was during their pre-driving years, in “safety” seats.
It is not the point to debate whether strapping kids in these seats is “safe.” It probably is – at least in terms of hypothetical scenarios, the accident that “might” happen. Of course, most of the time it doesn’t. But since the mid-1990s, being strapped in always happens – and the demoralizing effects of this are probably very correlative with the declining interest in cars and driving that has been observed among the cohorts that grew up strapped down.
People tend to have an aversion to the unpleasant.
It is very unpleasant to be strapped down, especially if you are a kid. They are naturally wriggly and want to see and be a part of whatever is going on. Those of us who got to ride in cars before they became prisons experienced the drive. We sometimes even got to drive – by sitting on dad’s lap while he did and maybe he let us hold the wheel. We were able to stick our hands – our heads – outside of the open window and feel the wind in our faces, experiencing the Bernoulli Effect on the aerodynamics of our palms. We could launch ourselves forward to be part of the conversation between the people in the front seats. And – if it was a station wagon – roll around on the flat cargo floor in the rear, maybe even looking up through the roof glass at the passing clouds.
It was extremely pleasant.
And we all looked forward to the day when it would be our turn behind the wheel.
Those days are gone.
People who’ve grown up since the mid-’90s didn’t experience cars as liberating things. And when they became old enough to be permitted behind the wheel, it was generally heavily restricted; no driving after dark – and no driving with other teenagers. This puts a “what’s-the-point?” sign on the windshield.
Plus, there aren’t many $500 beaters around for sixteen-year-olds to drive, insurance costs are punitively exorbitant and extremely difficult to just not pay (as they were, back in the day – before there was a collusive computerized panopticon connecting the enforcement apparat of the state with the insurance mafia’s greed to make us all bleed) and there are similarly punitive “zero tolerance” policies in effect for even trace amounts of alcohol – not necessarily even in the body of the targeted teenager. An empty can in the car is all it takes to get arrested as a “drunk” driver – if you’re lot legally old enough to drink.
Even if you haven’t, actually.
Meanwhile, cars increasingly parent adults and teens alike. Instead of freeing, they are controlling.
Ergo, why not just surrender control, entirely? Let the car drive.
This is both the end result and the cause of it. Whether it can be reversed is a subject for another column.
. . .
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