Opinion: life's better with a driver's license
LAST week I sampled a new car unashamedly aimed at millennials. Millennials? New one for me too, but seems that's the name for those born between the mid 1980s and early 2000s.
Anyway, the car was the Holden Spark. Nice little thing, great for singletons living the cool urban life seeking something cheap, safe, stylish enough and with the very latest smartphone mirroring technology.
The final aspect is key. You see, millennials don't own cars like previous generations did. Those who remember life before the internet blessed/cursed us saw getting a licence to drive and owning a car as the first tangible leap from childhood to adulthood - a gateway to an exciting world of freedom, independence and possibilities.
But apparently what constitutes freedom has shifted. Escapism can be best found with decent wi-fi connectivity, a smartphone and all your mates sharing banalities over social media. A deserted road, no planned destination and your own wheels just doesn't cut it anymore.
Bargain cars with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - where your phone's screen is mirrored on your car's monitor, and standard on sub-$16k cheapies like the Holden Spark and Skoda Fabia - will hopefully convince more millennials to become car owners, or even just commit to getting a driver's licence - the percentage of youngsters doing that has been falling for years.
And who can blame them? Driving tests are getting harder (fair enough) and more expensive. Registration, petrol and insurance ain't cheap, and talking to teens about the subject, many suggest busy roads, bureaucracy, and the chance of fines from speeding, parking or road rule breaking doesn't bring freedom, but anxiety and unwanted responsibility. Fair points all.
I'm still convinced it's worth it, however. Not least because of the vast, beautiful and endlessly fascinating country we live in, which previous generations have been kind enough to pave so we can explore it in our four-wheeled metal boxes.
I said as much to a young European backpacker recently who'd struck up a conversation about my old car parked up outside the local coffee shop. He said he'd love to be driving in Australia but never needed nor wanted a licence.
I told him this year was the 20th anniversary since I'd driven from Perth to Sydney across the Nullarbor as a wide-eyed 18-year-old, and he seemed to consider this made me almost superhuman - an adventurer on par with a Scott or Amundsen. There was one night we couldn't find a pub near Ceduna, so I suppose we did endure hardships ...
Thing is, when a schoolmate and I piloted that rusty, stinky and frighteningly unstable 1976 Toyota Corona wagon across the desert during a scorching summer, it turned out to be one of the most incredible experiences I've had, despite only AM radio, instant noodles and warm VB for company. And if I'd not done it as a teen, I never would have: job, mortgage and kids have put a hold on a return trip ever since.
So I'm eternally grateful I got my driver's licence at 17, and would compel millennials likewise to do so if they can.
Open-road freedom awaits. And you can even bring your smartphone with you.