Never Stop Driving #46: Are the kids alright?

Do kids like driving or not? I’ve been noticing dueling narratives. In the “we’re doomed” category, Substack writer Rob Henderson, a psychologist, explains how today’s kids are more risk averse than previous generations and don’t want to leave their parents’ basements. The percentage of 17-year-olds who have drivers licenses fell from 62 percent in 1997 to 42 percent in 2021.

The New York Times, on the other hand, recently highlighted a group of Southern California youths for whom the car is a cherished means to freedom and adventure. I probably should be celebrating the Times piecea love letter to the car—but it’s presented in an artsy way, with photos fit for a Forever 21 catalog. My colleague Joe DeMatio pointed out that the article merely confirms that for many young people in America, the car is as important to their social lives and development as it was for the characters in the flick American Graffiti a half-century ago. For the kids in the NYT piece, cars are rolling rec rooms, a way to connect with friends in person rather than through a phone screen. DeMatio found it heartening and hopeful and dismissed my concerns about the photos with a characteristic wave of his hand. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

I have three kids under the age of 20 so I naturally consider myself an expert on the topic. I’ve witnessed the corrosive effects of today’s never-ending digital entertainment stream and often resent the devices that take up so much of my kids’ time. Then I remember that T.V. got its turn in the hurt locker, and most new entertainment technology is accused of being unhealthy. Tastes and behaviors change. The world changes.

first gen red mazda miata overhead front three-quarter
Cameron Neveu

That said, I rely on cars to lure my kids off the screens so I can connect with them while they’re still at home. The machines are wonderful gathering points, as I’ve pointed out many times, from a road-trip tale to our book Never Stop Driving, now available in audio format. I’ve recently taught three stick-shift lessons to my 18-year-old daughter, who’s never leaned toward the family business. A kid who’s long viewed cars as her old man’s curious obsession now sees stick-shift driving as a potentially fun and valuable skill to have. During our first lesson in an empty high-school parking lot, she accidentally did three burnouts and laughed each time. I did too. Now she wants to drive our ’86 Mustang to school.

A few years ago, we dove into the topic of kids and cars and concluded that there’s plenty of automotive enthusiasm in the next generation. I still believe that but am aware I travel in self-reinforcing circles. I’m also wary of too much screen time for our kids. Ben Franklin believed there’s virtue in moderation. Except, of course, when it comes to my cars, when too much is just enough.

I’m grateful to work at a company fueled by a purpose to save driving and car culture for future generations. Hagerty Media contributes to that purpose via the material that we produce, which we hope stokes and spreads the passion. As evidence that it does: One of our time-lapse engine rebuilds, on a Chevy pickup engine, has over 45 million views.

If you enjoy our content and would like to contribute, please join the Hagerty Drivers Club, which now offers a free, 60-day trial. Already a member? Thank you. Please encourage your network to do the same.

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    I think it’s safe to say there is and always has been a lot of variety in attitudes, lifestyles, hobbies, etc between people of any particular generation. Especially in the last couple centuries. In the face of unprecedented environmental issues, it’s not unsurprising that a lot of the younger generation are turning away from motorsports enthusiasm. Simultaneously, we are also at a place where fun cars and manual gearboxes are becoming so rare they are curiosities. I think some younger people see that and want to participate before they don’t exist any more.

    Larry, I admire your optimism about kids and cars, but I don’t share it.

    My reason? There are few cars on the road today to get passionate about, just a sea of anonymous trucks and SUVs. When I grew up I the sixties, I saw cars that raised my pulse every day (with emphasis on “cars”).

    It’s no wonder it’s hard to get kids away from their devices.


    I think there are a bunch of sporty and fun cars that’ll continue the enthusiasm…from the Nissan Z to the Subaru BRZ, Mini, Miata, and of course now the Bronco and Wrangler.

    My two daughters grew up around cars. They started driving the lawn tractor and quad in their early teens. Changing oil and tires as part of “Dad’s Driver’s Ed” were required along with mastering a manual transmission. They completed SCCA Street Survival teen driving school. (Highly recommended!!) In college while obtaining their physician assistant and pharmacy degrees respectively, they were the go to for jumping batteries and changing flat tires. Now in their late 20’s they are die hard F1 fans. The sons in law are “car guys”, as soon as schedules allow we will do the Porsche Driving Experience in Atlanta. My point here is I believe there is hope but a lot of it depends on environment. Do whatever you have to to get the kids off their phones and out of the basement. Keeping cool cars around helps as well.

    The stats don’t lie about how many teens delay getting drivers licenses. It’s sad and totally puzzling to my 16 year old brain (in a 55+ year old body). But then again, in our youth the car represented freedom, even if you were not a “car person.” Today, kids have Uber connected to their parents’ Gold Cards to get even greater freedom without the worry of DWIs or driving past DMV curfews.

    That being said, I’m doing my part. I taught four boys to drive. They were all required to learn to drive a manual too. They can all do it, but only one wanted a stick in his car. Better than none. And another likes changing his own oil on his Subaru and considers himself more car-knowledgeable than most, but not an all out car guy. I’ll take it. And the other two definitely like nice cars and talk about dream cars (A Boxster for one and a Solstice for the other, so they have car taste!).

    To do your part, just be sure to take any opportunity to invite kids into your cars. I let a friend’s 22 year old son drive my new Porsche. It changed his life! He talks about it with everyone he encounters (BTW, he’s into drifting his RHD Nissan nowadays and loves that, so he’s hooked.)

    There is a future for car enthusiasts. It may look different than American Graffiti, but that’s unavoidable.

    PS I love your articles, Larry. And congrats introducing some Fox Body love to your daughter. She will be a big hit in the high school parking lot!

    Our local cars and coffees are filled with kids. Gridlife is a huge new car event. Most of the people watching Hagerty YouTube videos are under 44. Yeah, the next gen will handle cars differently just like I never touched a carburetor until 10 years ago. Thanks for reading!

    Loved that your daughter accidently did burn outs and that you both laughed. I raised my 2 daughters in the country in Iowa. They know how to use jumper cables. change a tire and even pack from wheel bearings. They also know what burn outs are, getting stuck on a dirt road or even in sand is like. They may not even need that knowledge but it sure doesn’t hurt to have it.

    Yeah for sure. It’s interesting how kids change: A year ago, I bet the burnout would have scared her. Not now.

    Well, I’m doing my part. My son is 19 years old and went from learning how to drive 3 years ago on a 2006 Kia Spectra to asking me to help him buy a 2008 Pontiac Solstice 18 months ago, and now just a week ago asking me to look at a 1999 Z28 6-speed manual. He ended up purchasing it and I gave him 2 lessons on driving a manual. Just a few days later he’s doing great. It certainly wasn’t the easiest choice of cars to learn on with 325 dynoed rear wheel horsepower and a clutch from a Z06 Corvette.

    I equal parts proud he wants a manual muscle car and terrified my 19 year old son has that much power after getting bit by the car bug. I remember what I did on the streets of Philadelphia in my Nova when I was 19! YIKES!

    I completely share your thoughts there. I see my son drive away in a Miata knowing the huge trucks he’s sharing the road with and I shudder.

    I have five grandkids that are in Middle and High School (a couple will grad this spring), and I can easily see both sides of this story illustrated. The two eldest ones already own their own cars and regularly drive both short hops and long road trips. Those two, plus two of the younger ones, have always loved going for jaunts in my classic, and have learned a lot by hanging out in my garage. One – the only male – is the quintessential “lives in the basement, playing video games” kind of kid. Oh, he plays most sports and also is in the school band, so he’s not a total game-geek, but he has zero interest in cars or driving. So I think that Marc Bee has a good point – it takes all kinds, and there are all kinds out there! John Warwick and Tom Parker also added a salient point – interesting and cool cars will nearly always spur more interest than boring ones, and there are many more boring cars out there than there were when I was a teen.

    Relevant topic and good read, I don’t see any car enthusiasm in the kids I know. Definitely not the degree of my generation. And you are correct about the NYT article and pics, ugh, was more like a fashion shoot. Keep up the good work.

    I spent almost 2 years with my garage door open much of the time, working on my first Model T based hot rod, a 1923 Touring. In all that time, I had only one boy less than 21 who stopped to even look at it. That worried me. If some guy had been building something like that in my neighborhood when I was 14, I would have been there all the time. In fact, one neighbor did, indeed, have a circle-track ’32-coupe-based race car, and I’m sure I was an annoyance at the time.

    I’ve had a neighbor boy who stopped in a few times to look at the build of my Model A, but he’s too busy to hang out much: He’s building his own aluminum boat and trailer, and doing all of his own welding and fabrication!

    Interesting article. The fact that only 42% of 17-year-olds currently have a driver’s license is hard to imagine. And, unfortunately that number is declining. When I was 15 years old in the mid-1970’s, everyone couldn’t wait to get their drivers license. But what you’ve done by providing the opportunity for your kids to experience an older vehicle is what will keep this hobby / lifestyle flowing. I’ve taken my kids (and now Grandkids) to car events whenever we could make it happen. It’s a good way to bond with them, meet other like minded people, and keep the interest alive.

    The young folks in the NYT article had some sort of attachment to their rides. Isn’t that what we complain about “young whippersnappers” NOT having? The photos, well, not my thing but there is plenty of stuff that is not my thing.

    My kids learned to drive on a stick also. It was an 83′ Chevy Citation with the Iron Duke engine and a four speed tranny. That car was a blast to drive. We drove it until the doors would not shut. The kids now can take their pick of cars because I taught them to not only change oil, but also brake jobs. At graduation they all got a Craftsman tool box full of tools. They still thank me today for those skills!!!

    My 18 and 20 year old boys encouraged me two years ago to “Go for the 6 speed” when shopping for a 4th gen LS power Trans Am. At the time, I could go either way. I won’t have to worry about stopping at red lights and restarting on big hills in my area if I got the automatic. I took their advice and went for the 6 speed. It is much more exhilarating in my Sunday Driver. Both of my sons waited until they were 18 to get their license. My wife and I encouraged waiting until 18. Our state has many restrictions on drivers under 18 and we found it best to just avoid the hassles. Maybe this is a little clue on why 16 year-olds are less interested in driving as soon as they turn 16? Oh and, my kids do not seem interested in battery powered cars, unless it is their Traxxis RC cars.

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