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Teens Don’t Need Cars Anymore: They Cyber Hitchhike

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.

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Photo Credit: Karin Vlietstra

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8:47PM PDT on Sep 3, 2013

better for the environment to car pull? :)

1:22PM PDT on Aug 30, 2013

Katie R., how does one make a "sensible judgement" about their potential driver on the side of the road, or on the Internet, for that matter? It's not possible with those you don't know, period. That's not paranoia, it's common sense. With the human/sex trafficking, the sexual predators, etc we have out there, it's just a horrible crime waiting to happen. And, of course, it's never really a problem, until it is. By that I mean, you can listen to stories about a 1000 kids getting into bad situations, but it's not affecting you until it is your child or your neighbor, etc.
Sending a photo of the back of the car (license, I guess you mean) will only ensure prosecution, it will not ensure safety.

8:09PM PDT on Aug 29, 2013

Safety concerns aside, I would absolutely hate to have to be that dependent on others! I'd always be anxious about whether or not their plans would change and if I would still get a ride back. No thanks. not for me! Either my own ride (or that of trusted family) or public transport. I wouldn't trust anyone else to come, remember, or not suddenly change plans or make the trip long going here and there while I only want to go from A to B.
Absolutely not. Yikes!

8:18PM PDT on Aug 28, 2013


11:09PM PDT on Aug 27, 2013

Sorry for the outburst. Our son attends a community college and they have a ride sharing program which would be safe, but going on the internet isn't a good idea. Sharing a ride is much better for the environment, and my son and his friends do it all the time. Thank you for the post.

11:09PM PDT on Aug 27, 2013

Hopefully they won't encounter any cyber psychos.

11:07PM PDT on Aug 27, 2013

Riding with strangers should be out of the question for teenager whether they are boys or girls! Are you out of your mind? Good heavens! Three girls just escaped being held by a deranged man for years. The same has happened to boys. In addition, there are also those who would press them into prostitution. Public transportation would be safer or riding with friends, but a teenager should never get into the car with a stranger. I wouldn't do it, and I'm older than dirt.

6:59PM PDT on Aug 27, 2013

Sounds as dangerous as hitching a ride on the road.

1:52PM PDT on Aug 27, 2013

I can't even stand the way some folks tend to their homes....why in the world would I trust them with my teenage son or daughter? There is eco-sense and then there is common sense and sometimes they just don't meet. This would be one of those times. I had enough great experiences with public transportation to last a lifetime as well. Pity any future children I may have because I would be crazy enough to purchase a solar powered bus just so I would know exactly who their friends are, where they are going and when they will be returning :O0

1:51PM PDT on Aug 27, 2013


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