Driving Culture

Driving Culture

Culture is defined by our textbook as having the qualities of being transmitted across generations and changing the way of life of a group of people. One thing that was transmitted to me from my parents and changed the way I live my life was learning to drive. Specifically, I looked at the way in which driving affects young people. For many young people, driving has a significant effect on development and the transition from adolescence to adulthood. As I was researching, I found evidence that driving is more than just transportation, serving a psychosocial purpose.

From car seats to getting my license, I spent a lot of my life inside of a car. My sophomore year of high school revolved around cars: from Driver’s Education class, to Behind the Wheel programs, to waiting to turn fifteen and six months so that I could get my learner’s permit. Driving culture, which is common in suburban areas but largely foreign to those who grew up in urban areas, significantly affected my life. Coming from a fairly well-off region (Northern Virginia, specifically Loudoun County), a large portion of high schoolers had access to a vehicle, with many even having their own personal car, making driving culture all the more prevalent in my community.

A photo I took of one of my close friends driving in my hometown of Sterling, Virginia.

My best friend’s car next to my own in the parking lot of our high school.

Culture is often a bonding force, allowing people of different backgrounds to come together in appreciation of something they have in common. In my high school, driving was largely one of these bonding forces. Even though the large majority of people lived within walking distance or had access to a school bus, the amount of students who drove to school was very high, with the parking lot full nearly every day. Traffic and driving stories were common topics of conversation: everyone knew the horror of trying to get out of the parking lot at the end of the school day, or the pesky 25 miles per hour school zones, or even the pain of driving on Route 7 during rush hour.

In the article, “Young people’s motivations to drive: expectations and realities”, the most common incentives that young people have to drive are outlined. I compared these to my own motivations and found the article to be very applicable to my own experience with driving. Motivations that are highlighted in the article are independence, personal space, and kudos gained by attaining a driver’s license. The article emphasized the expansion of young people’s social lives that takes place as a result of driving. The main reason cited for the expansion of young people’s social worlds is the dramatic increase in personal control. The reliance on parents for rides greatly decreases, allowing young people to go where they want, when they want. In addition, the article highlights the career opportunities that become available to young people as they gain the ability to drive.

However, driving culture is not experienced in the same way when one grows up in urban areas, as many people living in urban areas may not view driving or owning a car as worth their time or money. The limited access to and/or usefulness of public transportation in suburban areas creates a different scenario, with many people in the suburbs unable to imagine their lives without access to a vehicle, such as myself. While those from the suburbs often consider the ability to drive a basic life skill, many kids who grow up in urban areas don’t have access to a car or learn to drive.

In addition to gaining independence, personal space, and kudos, driving results in a rapid increase in the number of responsibilities of young people. Personally, once I learned to drive, I became depended upon to drive my sister and myself to school, running errands, and taking myself to work. The monetary and familial responsibilities that are directly associated with driving are more likely to be absent in urban areas. For example, the idea of dropping off or picking up younger siblings is much less widespread in cities than in the suburbs. In the suburbs, it is extremely common for older siblings to drive younger siblings to school and extracurricular activities. In fact, this is so common that my public school system took this into account, with high schools starting later than middle and elementary schools so that older siblings can drop off younger siblings, as well as special early release permissions for high schoolers to retrieve siblings from school or daycare.

The responsibilities that accompany driving are not just personal—all drivers are also accountable to adhere to safe driving practices so as to not injure others on the road. Young drivers, typically characterized as those between ages 16 or 17-24, have some of the highest crash rates around the world (Guggenheim & Ben-Ari, 145). Especially coupled with underage drinking and drug use, driving ushers in dangerous situations that young people in urban areas may not be faced with as frequently, if at all. The consequences for reckless and drunk driving are nothing minor: totaled cars, high fines, and even death. The presence of peers in the vehicle can also lead to an increase in the tendencies of young people to speed or take risks (Scott-Parker, King, & Watson, 17).

Risky driving behavior is associated with the purpose of driving, as is discussed in the article “The psychosocial purpose of driving and its relationship with the risky driving behavior of young novice drivers”. In particular, young people who drive for ‘excitement’ or to purposefully avoid police officers tend to have higher traffic offenses and more risky driving behaviors (Scott-Parker, King, & Watson, 17). Also examined in this article is the psychosocial purpose of driving. The article provides evidence for the idea that driving is more than just transportation, serving multiple purposes, “ranging from gaining a sense of freedom to relaxing” (Scott-Parker, King, & Watson, 23).

Spending time driving with friends is a unique feature of driving culture and can affect friendships dramatically. The interaction between driving and friendships is discussed in the article “Can friendship serve as an impetus for safe driving among young drivers?”, in which researchers delve into the different types of friendships and how they may affect driving in unique ways. While friendships in which young people are focused on impressing one another typically increases the amount of risky behavior, positive friendships, like those based on mutual care and respect may actually cause young people to drive more safely. Whereas young drivers are typically aware of dangers like the consumption of alcohol and fatigue, they are less likely to recognize the dangers of thrill-seeking, especially when this kind of behavior is done in the presence of their peers. Driving that is done for the sole purpose of having fun, especially coupled with listening to loud music, can lead to inattention to the task of driving, which can have dangerous results. The idea of driving ‘just for fun’ is almost unique to the group of young drivers. The excitement of driving wears off pretty quickly for most drivers, however, studies find (Fylan & Caveney, 36).

One of the limitations of my research into driving culture is that the research done for the peer-reviewed journal articles that I used were all conducted outside of the United States, so there may be some regional differences that were not taken into account. In addition, the relative economic/income homogeneity of the region that I grew up in likely influenced the number of people who had access to cars, which could have inflated the prevalence of cars in my community. Finally, my personal bias definitely affected my research, as I believe that driving is an influential part of development, largely because I feel that it influenced my own life.

I wanted to research the effect of driving on the development of young people because I personally feel as though it had a very significant effect on my life. The responsibilities that I gained once I began driving, as well as the personal freedom and enjoyment, certainly changed the way that I developed. Driving also bonded me to my friends and created a common bond in my high school community. Since coming to college this year, I have been in a car much less than in the rest of my life. Although I only began driving myself during sophomore year of high school, I had become so used to it that adjusting to not having a car here at college has been somewhat of a struggle. More than just convenient transportation, I miss being able to play my music without worries and the relaxation that I find in driving. This is also the first time that I met people my age who cannot drive and do not value it as an important part of their life. While the community here is different from Northern Virginia in multiple ways, the absence of driving culture is something that I noticed from the beginning, as it was previously a very important part of my life.



Guggenheim, Noga & Ben-Ari, Orit Taubman (2015, March 23). “Can friendship serve

as an impetus for safe driving among young drivers?” Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1369847815000406#!.

Fylan, Fiona & Caveney, Lauren (2017, December 22). “Young people’s motivations to

drive: expectations and realities”. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1369847816303370.

Scott-Parker, B., King, M. & Watson, B. (2015, July 02). “The psychosocial purpose of

driving and its relationship with the risky driving behaviour of young novice drivers”. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1369847815000959.


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