The open roads

Published 6:46pm Tuesday, June 3, 2014

It’s been 21 years since I started driving, and society is finally catching up to me like those speedsters on the interstate who pass with impunity without a state trooper in sight.

Federal regulators and transportation trend-watchers reminded the driving public last month that those of us who own cars are a sparser lot than ever before. For decades leading up to the 2008 recession, the average number of vehicles per U.S. household was somewhere north of two. Now, that average is just below two — perhaps a sign that teenagers are riding together more often and mom and dad just aren’t making the money they used to make.

An Experian Automotive Report for mid-2013 showed the drop in second or third vehicles in a given household. “People are consolidating their needs into fewer vehicles to cut costs,” noted Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book told media outlets as 2014 began. In a 2013 study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, 9.2 percent of U.S. households were without a vehicle, a jump of half a point from 2007. In those five-plus years, the proportion of households without a vehicle rose in 21 of 30 cities studied.

It means teens don’t yearn for the open roads the way their parents and grandparents’ generation did, despite the fact insurance companies consistently charge more to insure youngsters because of their driving patterns. For this reason, I rejoice mightily when I enter a new age bracket set by my auto insurer. Life is expensive enough and I appreciate any help I can get.

In a story in The Vicksburg Post last week that dealt with handicap parking, Police Chief Walter Armstrong was quoted referring to “the motoring public.” That had me thinking back to the time of “motor lodges” and “motor coaches.” Motor lodges were fancy names for motels back in the day of snazzy hard-tops like the ‘50s-era T-Birds and elegant station wagons like the 1940 Buick Phaeton, in which Bogart rode with Claude Rains’ pistol pointed at him at the end of “Casablanca.” That rugged individualism of the postwar consumer of the ‘50s seems to have faded in the era of $3-plus for a gallon of unleaded gasoline and modern cars that, as Mickey Rourke’s character in the 2005 film noir “Sin City” described, “all look like electric shavers.”

As for the trends, I see it catching up to me in that the youngsters seem to be waiting to drive. I was quite nervous to take the wheel for the first time. I drove mom’s Chrysler E-Class and my aunt’s Town and Country wagon like the same way you’d walk on hot coals. I was one of maybe five seniors in high school who rode the bus every day. My license came only after high school, long after the cooler dudes had picked out their favorite spots in the student parking lot for the used muscle cars their parents had bought.

But, as I mutter and sometimes shout to those speedsters that whip around me on the open roads, slow and steady wins the race — every time. Nice metaphor for life, too.

Danny Barrett is a reporter and can be reached by email at danny.barrett@vicksburgpost.com or by phone at 601-636-4545.

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