When thinking about the rites of passage in American culture, few things evoke a universally understood transition from the confines of adolescence to the freedom of adulthood as that pivotal moment of getting your first driver’s license. Countless movies and TV shows have captured this sentiment and inscribed it in the historical record of our shared life experiences.
Take, for example, the cliché-laden ‘80s flick License to Drive. Leading lad Les Anderson’s entire reputation and the “date of a lifetime” with Mercedes Lane (played by the clearly age-immune Heather Graham) are both riding on the DMV giving what best bud, Corey Feldman, tells him is “a license to live, a license to be free, a license to go wherever, whenever and with whomever you choose.” Bad news for Les as he quickly learns that “God giveth, and the DMV taketh away” when he fails the written exam, despite having survived a grueling road test with one very high-stakes rule of keeping hot coffee out of his instructor’s lap.
Though this was clearly an exaggeration of teenage angst, the sentiment behind it was almost universally relatable. But do American teens today still have this same life-altering, do-or-die view of getting their license?
According to a study done earlier this year by the University of Michigan, that answer would seem to be “not so much.” They found that in 2014, only 24% of 16 year-olds had a license, representing a significant decrease as compared to 1983, when 46% did. Even looking at the tail-end teens at 19 years old, just 69% (versus 87% in 1983) were found to be carrying that once-coveted ticket to freedom.
While the reasons behind this downward trend could range from improved public transportation, to teens entering the workforce at a later age, to an increasing laissez-faire attitude about institutional processes; one contributing factor that stands out in my mind is Generation Z’s utter dependence on, and preference for, technology.
With ever-rising connectivity and smartphone prevalence, this generation has had information at their fingertips and anytime, anywhere accessibility throughout their upbringing. So how does one reach this massive generation that is both free-spirited, but highly-demanding when it comes to having things accessible at the touch of a screen? Speak their language – and I don’t mean their LOL/SMH/IMHO text language. I mean, put what they need (or in some cases, what you want to sell them) in a format they will use, and deliver it ASAP to the palm of their hands. Cue the digital driver’s license.
The digital driver’s license enables you to reignite this concept of freedom and independence and package it in a way that makes sense to Gen Z and to the increasing number of Americans in all generations who are looking towards technology and mobility to make their lives easier, more convenient, and more secure. Doing so will arguably help to reverse the decline in percentage of the population with a driver’s license or identification card, and bring more young people back within the DMV’s reach. Because certainly there are plenty of Les Andersons out there who deserve that ultimate license to be free, and to land a date with their dream girl.