Internet May Distract Teens From Learning To Drive

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For teenagers, a driver's license has traditionally been a passport to freedom — but a license may not offer the thrill it once did. Teens are finding there isn't much need to learn to drive. These days there is text messaging and Skype as ways to keep in touch with their friends. Insurance companies and federal statistics show that the number of teenage drivers is down by millions.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Some teenagers may be passing up one of their rights of passage. It's the chance to get into a car and drive. Insurance companies and federal statistics show that the number of teenage drivers is down by millions. Driving is expensive and teenagers have plenty of entertainment at home. Here's Beth Accomando of member station KPBS.

BETH ACCOMANDO: Seventeen-year-old Jonathan Rios(ph) is trying to run over a biker.

Mr. JONATHAN RIOS: I think this is why I shouldn't get my license.

ACCOMANDO: �Grand Theft Auto� doesn't provide the best driver's training.

Mr. RIOS: This is good practice if the steering wheel was ever replaced by a 360 controller.

ACCOMANDO: For the moment, driving a jacked car in �GTA� is the only driving Rios is doing. He could have gotten a learner's permit a year and a half ago, but instead, he's decided he doesn't want or need to drive. According to Federal Highway Administration data, there were nearly four million more teenagers with licenses ten years ago.

Mr. RIOS: You might not think so, but the buses and trolleys really can take you anywhere and everywhere you want to go.

ACCOMANDO: And then, of course, there's always mom. Erin Dera Ortiz(ph) is Jonathan's mother. She's been chauffeuring her son around to school, practices, and pretty much anywhere he needs to go. She grew up in Mexico and remembers how hard she worked to get a car and a license as soon as possible.

Ms. ERIN DERA ORTIZ: I - you know, I had a driver's license when I was 16 - actually when I was 15 - and I had a car. So I was, you know - I had a lot of friends as you can imagine.

ACCOMANDO: But as a parent today, she thinks the cost of driving is far too expensive. First you have to spend hundreds of dollars on classes, and then there's the insurance.

Ms. ORTIZ: Oh my gosh, the insurance - I had no idea.

ACCOMANDO: Not driving is saving his mom more than $1,000 a year. But then Jonathan Rios doesn't feel a burning desire to leave his house - or his room for that matter. That's because his room is equipped with a big screen TV, all three major gaming systems, a number of guitars, an amp, and Internet access. A life-sized poster as Al Pacino as �Scarface� dominates one wall. And like Tony Montana, Rios brags that the world is his.

Mr. RIOS: I mean, it might be small, but on that Playstation 3 and the TV I have pretty much the whole world at my disposal, 'cause the Internet is just everywhere.

ACCOMANDO: He can watch DVDs, Bluerays, and YouTube or download movies. Or push it even further, as his friend Chris suggested, when they wanted to play two different video games.

Mr. RIOS: I have a �Digimon� game for my Playstation 3 and he loves that. And I was playing Xbox and he's like, dude, is it possible to play the Playstation 3 and the Xbox at the same time? I was like, actually, Chris, it is. And I split it and he was playing �Digimon� on the right side of the TV and I think I was playing �Halo� on the left side and we were just playing.

ACCOMANDO: Rios can also play video games online with people around the globe or with his friends from school and never leave his room. But Rios does leave his room to go to school and to the gym to compete in mixed martial arts.

And there was an incident recently that made Rios reconsider his decision about getting a license, a big party and no one available to drive them there.

For NPR News, I'm Beth Accomando.

INSKEEP: Okay, if teenagers can play Playstation 3 and Xbox at the same time, it might be no surprise that they try to do more things than just drive when they do get behind the wheel. A report from the Pew Research Center found that a quarter of American teenagers say they have sent text messages while driving. The report says boys and girls are equally likely to do this. Researchers say teens are well aware of the dangers but the desire to keep in touch is often stronger than the commitment to drive safely.

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