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Jewish World Review
April 12, 2012/ 20 Nissan, 5772
What do you mean you don't want a driver's license?
Since the beginning of the Republic, the nation has been afflicted with a breed of scholars, social critics and think tankers who take indecent relish in predicting the decline, even the imminent demise, of the United States.
I've always thought this a harmless kind of nuttery, akin to the doomsayers who predict, as they seem to do with increasing frequency, the end of the world. Right now, people who cannot read ancient Mayan, know nothing of the Mayans' religion or culture, let alone their track record for scientific accuracy, are saying the world will end Dec. 21.
Why? Because the Mayan calendar says so. And how do they know this? Because they saw it on the Internet somewhere or heard it on late-night AM radio.
They are ignoring a more worrisome sign of long-term decline. In 2008, only 30.7 percent of 16-year-old drivers got their licenses compared with 44.7 percent in 1988.
What is wrong with these kids? Don't they know this is an essential rite of passage?
The day I turned 16 I tried to get my learner's permit but failed the vision test, badly. We rallied my uncle, the ophthalmologist, and his friend, the optometrist, and a few days later presented myself again to the state police sporting a dorky-looking set of glasses that should have got me passed on compassionate grounds alone.
I could already drive, sort of, because my aunt surreptitiously let me drive her '52 Olds station wagon around our yard and on close-by streets. I bugged my parents to go driving with me and took lessons from an imperturbable instructor named Frank in a standard transmission '57 Plymouth with the gearshift mounted on the steering column. It wallowed, and pretty much handled, like an overloaded sailboat in light winds, ideal training, as it turned out, for some of the cars I would subsequently own.
My first legal solo trip was to pick up my girlfriend. Life was good.
My oldest son was like me, although I had the good sense not to provoke an argument with my mother about how once I had a license I would be driving to school every day. My son was bargaining from a weak position since he didn't yet have a learner's permit.
He might have been at the end of the generation for which a driver's license was a must-have document.
The speculation is that we now have a generation so consumed by social media, smartphones, Xboxes and Skype that they don't really have to go anywhere to see anybody. Besides, they've grown up having their parents drive them everywhere, which just didn't happen when most families had only one car.
That might have been the case with my second son. He seemed absolutely indifferent to driving. He walked and took the subway to school and football practice, returning home late, filthy and exhausted. I actually forced him to get a driver's license.
Some theorize that the new "graduated" system of licensing is discouraging younger drivers -- you have to be a certain age to drive at night or drive with more than one other person in the car, the driver's tests are harder, and schools don't teach driver's ed anymore.
Maybe age has dimmed my memory, but I can't see any 16-year-old from the '50s and '60s letting these obstacles stand in the way of driving a car. Perhaps it's not a sign of American decline, perhaps times are just different, but all the same, if I were 16 today I'd do my best to get my license before next Dec. 21. You never know.
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