TEEN DRIVING….Is being a teenager these days really that different from being a teenager 30 years ago? I’m frequently skeptical of the seemingly limitless supply of stories suggesting they are, which makes this story in the LA Times today particularly intriguing. Apparently teenagers are increasingly not bothering to get driver’s licenses these days:

Only 43% of all 16- and 17-year-old Americans were licensed in 2002, the last year for which statistics were available, according to the Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Census Bureau. In 1992, that figure was nearly 52%. Meanwhile, in supposedly car-addicted California, teens are even less likely to be driving. Slightly less than 27% ? about 1 in 4 ? of the state’s 16- and 17-year-olds were licensed last year, a figure that has been sliding since at least 1978, when it was 50.1%.

….In urban Los Angeles, Garfield High School football coach Lorenzo Hernandez recently bought an SUV to shuttle players because so many lacked transportation. “It’s amazing,” said Hernandez. “It used to be if kids needed rides, there were seniors or whoever who could take them. But we have 56 kids on the team this year and I only have, like, two who can drive.”

The whole story is fascinating. Part of the reason for the decline is that many states, including California, have made it more difficult for teens to get a driver’s license, but the fact is that it’s still not that hard. (And don’t let the story fool you. The “50 hours of supervised driving practice” that California requires can be with your parents. It doesn’t have to be at a driving school.)

Rather, a big part of the problem seems to be that a lot of teens are perfectly happy being ferried around by their parents, and their parents are happy ? or have at least resigned themselves ? to do the ferrying. I don’t really have anything profound to say about this, and there’s no telling just how big a trend this really is, but to the extent that it’s real it strikes me as a bad thing. Teenagers should want to become independent of their parents, shouldn’t they? Isn’t that practically the definition of adolescence?

POSTSCRIPT: Just to make this clear: I don’t mind that teenagers are driving less. Probably all for the best. But to be driving less because they’re afraid to learn, or because they’re happy to have their parents drive them around ? that seems somehow unhealthy.