Surfing the Web vs. Cruising the Strip

Deborah Salmi 10 Apr 2012

Surfing the Web vs. Cruising the Strip

Modern teenagers would rather socialize with friends on the web than get in a car and go see them in person. Is this a glitch in the matrix, or for real?

It’s real. Recent studies reveal that being digitally connected is more important to young people than the freedom a car brings. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that the current number of American 17 year-olds with driver's licenses has dropped by 50% from 30 years ago. The pattern is repeated in countries with quality Internet access, including Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Norway and South Korea, where the number of young drivers has also declined over recent years.

The theory is that virtual contact has reduced the need for young people to get together face-to-face. A November Gartner study supports this, showing that 46% of people aged 18 to 24 would take internet access over access to a car of their own. This is not too surprising when you consider the price of a car, insurance and fuel compared to the price of an iPhone, for example.

Does this mean that dependence on digital devices instead of wheels for socializing can save lives? Could be. The CDC says that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for more than one in three deaths. The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16 to 19 year-olds than among any other age group. If those teenagers are now staying home to surf the web, the statistics should reflect that pretty soon.

How could this trend effect global warming? Gas prices? Dividends from Apple? Looks like this could actually be pretty good for everyone – except maybe the car manufacturers. But they are looking at ways to converge technology to make your car into a big smartphone. Last month at the Geneva car show, manufacturers were displaying how smartphones or tablets will become a seamless extension of the dashboard. And you thought texting was dangerous?

Meanwhile, a survey from last week shows that right now 34% percent of U.S. teenagers own an iPhone, and a further 40% have aspirations to buy one in the next 6 months.

Which one is more important to you - your car or your smartphone? What new technology would you like to see in new cars? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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