CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Remember when you learned to drive? For most of us, it was a really big deal.
But today, not so much.
There is a trend where Americans are getting their driver’s licenses later in life. And many are opting to not drive at all.
State Farm Insurance agent Haven Miller thinks one of the reasons may be trepidation.
“Probably every young person has some arms-length connection to someone who has had an accident with a tragic outcome or fatality,” Miller said.
A medical expert elaborated on the theory.
“Whether they are aware of it or not, that stays with you”, explains Dr. Charryse Johnson, a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor with Jade Integrative Counseling and Wellness in Charlotte. “It is unsettling and gets stuck not only in your mind but also your body.”
Getting your driver’s license has long been associated with coming of age. For most of us, it means one thing: freedom. But times have changed, and to many young adults, driving seems to have lost its appeal.
They don’t see cars in the same way their parents did. Getting licensed is no longer a key life milestone. In fact, many are pumping the brakes.
Federal Highway Administration statistics show 25 percent of 16-year-olds got their licenses in 2021. In 1983, that figure was 46 percent.
A contributing culprit: the unwanted passenger in the car. Anxiety is riding shotgun.
Johnson sees a correlation between anxiety and the increasing lack of interest in getting behind the wheel.
“Anxiety is a very real thing and it stands in the way of a lot of people being comfortable on the road,” reveals Johnson.
And it’s not just teens. Millennials and Gen Z-ers are postponing landmark events, like learning to drive, to later in life, or choosing to forego it all together. This, in part, due to scary statistics and the availability of less stressful transportation like Ubers, scooters and e-bikes.
Twenty-six-year-old Forrest Fitch has a driver’s license. But he doesn’t use it. In fact, he is car-free.
“I live here, I work here, everything is within walking distance,” he said. “Don’t know why I need a car.”
Forrest enjoys the amenities of uptown Charlotte, readily available in the city center with no need for hectic highways.
And that suits him just fine. After all, driving isn’t for the faint at heart. According to the World Health Organization, car accidents are annually responsible for about 1.3 million deaths worldwide.
U.S. road crash statistics report the traffic fatality rate is 12.4 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. And in Mecklenburg County alone, the N.C. Department of Transportation recorded 138 people killed in crashes in 2021.
“No wonder there is so much anxiety out there, ”sympathizes Johnson.
Yes, it’s scary out there. With the uptick in road rage fueling aggressive angry drivers — annoy or cut a driver off — you run the risk of getting shot.
Members of Gen Z admit they haven’t gotten licensed because they are afraid of getting into accident, or of driving itself. Johnson says this anxiety has significantly increased since the pandemic.
“We were inside and didn’t have to be out on the street, and now things are ramped up, overwhelming, makes us anxious,” she said.
If anxiety isn’t enough to discourage driving, the financial burden of owning a car, is.
Forrest figures, “It’s too expensive to have these days… so no, I don’t need one,” he said. “It’s the cost, insurance, car payment, maintenance, it’s not worth it.”
Millennials like Krystal Laprad owns a car, but uses it sparingly, opting for two wheels over four when feasible.
“I ride the e-bike to doctor’s appointments,” she said. “I have a basket for my dog. I take the bike anywhere farther than walking distance.”
Added benefits of ditching the car include the lack of stress when finding a parking space or paying for it.
“Absolutely, it is much cheaper than driving a car,” Laprad added.
Forrest says the last time he had a car, he lived in the suburbs and had to drive a long distance to work. Now that he moved to uptown, and lives in the same building where he works, he scoots around car-free.
And when inclement weather prohibits scooters and e-bikes, Forrest relies on ride-shares.
A 2019 poll reveals half of all ride share users are ages 18 to 29, so Forrest fits right in. These days consumers can access not just Ubers, but practically every need at their fingertips or rather their thumbs, with apps.
While a lot of factors are at play, it is anxiety the Insurance Information Institute reports as a top reason for not driving.
Dr. Johnson says certainly there are a lot of things out of our control, but when it comes to driving and anxiety, there is help. Here are her tips to get you back on the road comfortably.
- Try breathing exercises to calm you.
- Leave plenty of extra time to get to your destination.
- Take back streets or less crowded roads if possible.
- And listen to soothing music during your drive.
Whether you drive a car, scooter or e-bike, be aware of distracted drivers around you. A 2021 study conducted by AAA found 37 percent of drivers talk on the phone and nearly 40 percent drive while texting and sending emails.