In the last twenty years, the number of 16 and 17-year-olds getting their driver’s licenses has plummeted. In 1997, 43 percent of 16-year-olds had their licenses. In 2020, that number had dropped to 25 percent. Generation Z seems to be shunning cars in favor of other forms of transportation—but that isn’t true for everyone. The decision to get a driver’s license is a personal one, depending on financial circumstances, free time, and access to public transportation.
In Berkeley, students are lucky enough not to need a car to get around. Students have access to buses, BART, and even rentable electric scooters. According to Adalilly Chu, a BHS sophomore who isn’t planning on getting her driver’s license for a while, she can get to and from school easily without being able to drive. “Public transportation is enough for me if my parents can’t pick me up from school … even if I want to drive to school, there’s nowhere to park,” said Chu.
Also, getting a driver’s license is time-consuming. To get your learner’s permit in California, teenagers must take a DMV-approved 30-hour driver’s education course and spend six hours behind the wheel with a trained driving instructor.
Because of the workload increase in sophomore and junior school years, the time when students are finally eligible for a permit, taking a 30-hour course during the school year just isn’t feasible for many students, not to mention the cost. On average, six hours of in-person driving with a trained instructor costs $500, causing many students to wait until they turn 18 to get their license.
The time requirement for getting one’s license is part of the reason why BHS sophomore Sydney Fair is planning on waiting to get their license.“I don’t want to do it while school is going on … I already have enough homework, so it would make it (school) a lot more stressful,” said Fair.
That being said, many students still consider getting a driver’s license to be an important event, despite the costs. Having access to a car, without the rules and restrictions that come with riding with your parents, gives teenagers far more freedom. There’s a reason getting a car is seen as the ultimate teenage rite of passage: Once you have your license, you can go almost anywhere without needing to rely on parents or public transportation.
“I’ve been counting down the months and years since I was 11 … being able to drive will give me a lot of freedom,” said Ayla Conway, a BHS sophomore who is currently in the process of getting their driver’s license. According to Conway, having a license would make them feel much more confident in case of an emergency, along with making it easier for them to reliably get places on time, a large improvement from the unpredictably of public transportation.
Because of how unreliable Berkeley’s public transportation can be, many teenagers want the freedom that comes with being able to drive. However, just as many students would rather wait to get their license, knowing that they don’t need a car to get around and might not currently have the time to go through the driver’s license process.
Getting a driver’s license can be expensive and time-consuming, and no student should be pushed into getting one before they’re ready and able to undertake the challenge. No longer universal, a driver’s license is only worth it for BHS students if they want to pursue it.