Young Drivers Getting A Lesson in Economics

Pinched at the Pump, Teens Cut Back on Social Outings and Alter Commutes

By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 21, 2008

Gas prices are too high for a day trip to Dewey Beach. They are too high for a quick visit to see a friend in College Park. They consume enough of 18-year-old Ashleigh Krudys's paycheck that she second-guesses her social plans.

This is not how she imagined life with a driver's license.

"I feel like I'm not being a real teenager," said Krudys, of North Bethesda, who pays for gas with a full-time babysitting job and is college-bound in the fall. "When you watch movies and stuff, it's like everyone has their own car and everyone can drive and go where they want all the time."

As the nation's unprecedented jump in gas prices takes a toll across the region, many teenagers say they, too, are feeling the pinch. Some have a harder time wresting car keys from their parents. Others are looking for second part-time jobs to help foot the bill. Some are using Metro more often or getting around in other gas-saving ways.

This reality check comes at a time in their lives when many think of driving as exciting: a symbol of age and hard-won freedom, a rite of passage, an escape. But the price of gas has tempered the thrill for many teens, especially those who use their own money to fill up.

They talk of fewer evenings out. Less cruising around. More riding together and pitching in to buy a few gallons.

"You have to scavenge around for money every time you go out," said Gary Jones, 17, of Wheaton, who is headed to Bowie State University in the fall and who pays for most of his gas with his restaurant-job earnings. Sometimes his mother pitches in; sometimes he takes the bus. "You don't give anyone a ride unless they have $5 for gas," he said.

As a group, teenagers tend to be lower-paid on the job, face higher prices for car insurance and drive older, less fuel-efficient vehicles, they point out. Escalating gas prices come as another blow.

"It's like I'm working to pay for gas," said Jamel Douglas, 19, a graduate of M.M. Washington High School in the District who drives to Laurel for his job as a security guard. Lately, he said, he has given up weekend drives to Virginia. He and his friends walk when they can. For now, he said, "Our car-buying days are over."

Even when parents are willing to help, Alex Rodriguez of Riverdale said, it takes more money to make a difference. "You have to get $20 instead of $10," said the 18-year-old, who is looking for a job.

Allison May, also 18, drives siblings and does family errands in exchange for gas and also works at a restaurant. She said she cut back on celebrations after graduating in June from James Madison High School in Vienna. "I have a lot of friends in Maryland, and I didn't go to everyone's parties because it's half a tank both ways," she said.

May said she and her boyfriend take turns driving on dates. When she shops, she looks for the shortest route, trying not to double back. "I try to map it out in my head so that I don't waste gas," she said.

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