Senior Patrick Talamantes glances over at the seat next to him. For the first time the seat belt doesn’t hold an adult to watch his every move, to correct every error or to yell “Watch out!” when a reckless driver passes by.
Grinning ear to ear, Talamantes turns on the radio and drives off in his 2011 Ford Escape. This is freedom.
But it’s a freedom that many students have taken a pass on.
Talamantes, who is 18, is one of many teenagers across the nation who have waited to get their driver’s licenses, a decision that the older generation doesn’t quite understand.
According to teacher and car enthusiast Daniel Neukom, driving was very different in his day.
Since there was usually only one telephone (the only form of communication) in the house, driving was a much-anticipated opportunity.
“It meant total freedom,” Neukom said. “It meant you could leave the house and tell your parents where you were going, but they couldn’t track you.”
Neukom also noted that teenagers used to be able to drive their friends immediately after obtaining their driver’s licenses. Now, drivers under the age of 18 in California must wait 12 months before they can drive anyone else under 25.
According to a Michigan University 2012 study, 30 years ago, 8 in 10 Americans, ages 17-19, had their driver’s licenses. However, today only 6 in 10 teenagers do, a drop that concerns both car manufacturers and dealers.
Only half of SCDS seniors have their licenses. And only a third of juniors over the age of 16 have theirs.
John McClure, a manager at the Roseville Ford dealership, said that although he hasn’t seen a drop in sales to parents with teenagers at his particular dealership, he is sure that it has occurred nationwide.
But why the drop?
Researchers have their theories, mainly that teenagers are more connected by technology than ever before.
They point out that Facebook, SnapChat, Twitter, and Instagram let teens stay connected without requiring face-to-face interaction, something that a car used to be needed for.
Junior Maxwell Shukuya, who turned 16 six months ago, still doesn’t have his permit. He started a driver’s education course a couple of days after he turned 15 and a half but lost enthusiasm quickly.
“I’ve made about an hour of progress in the past year and a half,” he said. “It’s a combination of laziness and the fact that I’m not going to get a car.”
However, not having a driver’s license doesn’t bother Shukuya much.
“It’s not debilitating to my social life,” he said. “I have Facebook, or if I really want to see someone, I just carpool.”
“With the addition of technology, there’s not much of a need to get together,” senior David Myers said.
“When you can get something on Amazon.com and know that it’s there, why go drive to three or four stores to find it?” Neukom said.
“If you are streaming videos, you don’t need to drive to Blockbuster anymore to pick up a movie. And if you are on Skype, you can talk to your friends and see them at the same time.”
In response to the change, car manufacturers are trying to attract younger drivers by including more technological upgrades in the cars they might buy.
Features that allow teens to play music, make calls, and listen to text messages in Ford cars use a voice-activated software called SYNC.
In fact, the National Automobile Dealers Association recently ran an advertising section in Time magazine promoting the idea that cars are “back” and “cool again,” discussing the new technological advancements.
But these interactive vehicles aren’t tempting enough for some students.
Another reason teenagers aren’t driving may be the safety concerns of both them and their parents.
According to senior Ryan Ho, one of four seniors without either a license or a permit, his brother, Gordon, ’12, and he were shocked by the permit age when they first moved to America from Taiwan in 2006.
Ho’s mother made Gordon wait until he was 17 before he could get his permit.
Because Ryan lives with his aunt and uncle during the school year, his aunt drives him everywhere.
Senior Sydney Jackson, who received her permit a month after she turned 17 in July, said that she still doesn’t feel safe driving on the freeway.
The advertising section in Time magazine also notes that car manufacturers have improved wireless sensors, which detect and respond to other vehicles as the industry moves towards driverless cars.
Many students also say that their workload, as well as the tedious process of licensure, gets in the way of driving .
Ho promised himself to get his license once he turned 18 (this past September). However, due to homework and college applications, he has moved that goal to after Winter Break.
Senior Eric Hilton said that he also doesn’t have enough time to finish the requirements.
Hilton, who is 17, finished a driver’s ed course a year and a half ago, and he’s still working on finishing the requirements to get his license.
Fifty hours of driving experience and six hours with a professional driving instructor are required before getting one’s license between the ages of 16 and 18. This all must be done before one’s permit expires.
“When I first got my permit, I really didn’t do anything with it,” Hilton said. “This last summer, I tried to get all my lessons done, but my permit expired after three lessons. It’s hard to find time in my schedule to get (it) renewed.”
Myers said that he has had neither the time nor desire to learn how to drive.
“Licenses used to be a symbol of freedom, but nowadays there are a lot of ways to express that freedom,” he said.
But there are still some students who approach driving like teens in the old days.
Senior Charlie Johnson was one of the first in his class to obtain his license, receiving it just weeks after he turned 16.
Having a passion for cars, Johnson enjoys the act of driving as well as the freedom that comes with having a license.
And senior Troy Hoddick said that waiting to drive inhibits one’s ability to become completely independent.
Some students say they wish they’d gotten their licenses earlier.
“I can’t drive with other people because my parents aren’t comfortable with it,” Jackson said. “If I’m staying late at school, I don’t want to have to wait an hour until I get picked up.”
Talamantes, who has had his license for a little over a month, said he really enjoys the convenience.
“I didn’t really think (not having a license) would be that much of an issue, but then in junior and senior year, it changed,” he said. “It became a lot harder to plan with my parents. There was a lot of pressure and strain on the relationship with the extra stress.”
Senior Sarah Wilks, who obtained her license only a couple months after she turned 16, agrees.
“I like being able to leave (for school) whenever I want to,” she said. “I don’t have to be late because of my mom anymore.”
Many students also say that one needs to know how to drive before going to college, so they’ll get their licenses before then.
“You need to know how to drive to be able to function in society,” Myers said. He plans to get his license before graduating from high school.
Hoddick said he believes licensure is an important step into adulthood.
“What do you do when you’re 21?” Hoddick said. “You go drink. When you’re 16, you go get your driver’s license. It’s a landmark. It’s just something you go do.”