Teens Don’t Need Cars Anymore: They Cyber Hitchhike

When I graduated from college and entered the workforce as a high school teacher almost a decade ago, the big joke was that it wouldn’t be unusual for my students to have better cars than I did. This was mostly due to the fact that parents helped their kids out by either buying them cars outright or by subsidizing some of the purchase and the fact that teachers don’t make a ton of money.

For a while, it was true. I would walk out into the parking lot and get into my used 1998 Honda Civic while my students were roaring away in brand-new BMWs. I wasn’t jealous, per se, but I always harbored the hope that my students appreciated everything their parents handed to them.

In the past few years, however, things have changed. Where it was always a fight to get a student parking pass in August, schools now have them available all year whenever students want to purchase them because they don’t sell like they used to. More of my students have unlimited monthly bus passes than drivers licenses, and those that do have cars don’t take as much pride in them as they once did.

For a long time, I assumed that this was due to a few factors: namely, that the economy took a serious downturn and parents were either no longer able or willing to shell out the dough for brand-new cars for their teenagers. Money is also prohibitive in that if students want to take driving lessons outside of school, they have to pay for them whereas the school offers them during the year for free, so most kids wait until they can get into the free classes. Also, the driving laws changed in my state making it very difficult for students to get their licenses at 16.

Though all of these factors are part of the reason many teenagers are not jumping into their sweet rides after school, that’s not all of it. As it turns out, many teens don’t even want cars, whether they can have them or not. Instead, they’d rather use Twitter, Facebook, or text messaging to find rides wherever they need to go. This is what NPR has called cyber hitchhiking. Where our parents might have sat by the side of the road with their thumbs extended looking for rides, teens do it from the comfort of their own home, and they ask for rides everywhere — to and from school or work, into the city, to parties, or for longer trips. Not only that, but they are asking friends and strangers for rides.

Safety concerns of asking strangers on the internet for rides aside, this is a very interesting development for teenagers. Having a car is no longer the holy grail of freedom it was for my generation. Kids these days are doing just fine without them.

Whether they realize it or not, cyber hitchhiking — or ridesharing — has a positive impact on the environment. When teens share rides, they are using less gasoline, and therefore causing fewer harmful emissions to seep into the environment. Furthermore, teens who don’t even own a car are reducing their carbon footprint even further; according to Global Change, “the embodied CO2e emissions to make a car is about 3-3.5 years worth of tailpipe emissions from driving,” meaning that simply owning a new car has increased your carbon footprint and your impact on the environment.

Ridesharing isn’t as eco-friendly as public transportation, to be sure, but for teens in the suburbs or rural areas where public transport might not be as readily available, this is a great step in the right direction. We, as adults and teachers, should encourage this behavior among friends (and educate them about the dangers of hitching a ride with a stranger) and reward them for being environmentally conscious.

Photo Credit: Karin Vlietstra

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