While I was off last week, National Public Radio aired a story on the "end of America's love affair with the car". The story focused on the reduce amount of driving most Americans do today--and the growing trend of teens and young adults not buying cars--or even getting drivers licenses. To me, it was just another sign that we, as a country, continue to give up our personal freedoms, one at a time.
Some of the decline of the American car culture falls upon the government. Required safety features and fuel economy standards have robbed modern vehicles of the "fun" elements of the past. Gone are the muscle cars, bench front seats, chrome, glass packs, dual carbs and modified engines. My wife recently bought a 2011 Chevy Equinox. Every time I'm out driving in my unmistakable Jeep Wrangler, I see 15 other makes and models that look almost exactly like her vehicle.
"Cash For Clunkers" has also put the squeeze on first-time vehicle buyers as well. Tens of thousands of cars that were perfectly functional had to be scrapped--by law--instead of making their way to the used lots as "value" vehicles. (All of course to preserve lucrative UAW pension and medical plans for retirees.) Now, those that can't afford to spend five-figures on a used car find themselves locked out of the market--when there should have been plenty of supply available.
And let's not forget, kids have it drummed into their heads from day one at school that their very existence--and all of their actions--are detrimental to the "health of the planet". If you heard every day that driving a car will destroy the environment, would you be excited to get behind the wheel? Your being a "responsible global citizen" by just Skyping, or texting or Facetiming or SnapChatting with your friends on your smartphone and tablet than you are driving across town to actually see them face to face.
When I was in high school I had a chance to travel to Europe and to talk with kids about my own age over there. To a person, they were amazed that we as 16 or 17 year olds were not only allowed to drive--but that we owned our own cars. For them, going anywhere required walking or biking in the rain, standing around waiting for a bus or a subway, or plotting out train and bus schedules to other towns. It was one of the things that I learned about why the US was the greatest place to live (that and the outrageous sales taxes charged in those countries to fund their universal healthcare.)
To give up on the American Car Culture is to give up more of our personal freedoms. Last week, my wife and I decided to drive to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising, Michigan. Without a car, how could we have done that? High speed rail isn't going to the UP anytime soon. Going on a bus would have taken a couple of days--with several transfers--and once we got to Munising, how would we have reached the National Park?
Not all people are decrying this decline in driving (many of them likely NPR listeners). They prefer the collectivism of Public Transit and the dependence on Government to get where you need to go--when and how the Government decides to get you there. But for a dwindling few of us, the call of the open road will always be answered with the top down and the music blasting.