The Province reported this morning on a follow up analysis of ICBC’s 1998 Gradated Licensing Program. The authors’ determination, after selectively gerrymandering some original data, was that fewer “young people” were getting their drivers licenses. This fits with a friendly narrative of ‘the impending end of motordom’, but neither the data they present nor the story they tell back this up.

The article relies almost exclusively on personal testimonials of a few of them who’ve decided to forego – or forestall – getting their licenses.

I can appreciate having to personalize a story, but this is clearly just fill. It isn’t proof in support of anything. You could just as effectively claim that “more and more” Metro Vancouver teens are worshiping the devil, then interview some goth kids at the mall. Boom. Proof.

It is not merely my cantankerousness. Lazy puff-piece articles such as this are so easily picked apart and dismissed that they cast illegitimacy on the very notion of societal change. It’s not difficult to see why the right casts the entire narrative of ‘fewer cars’ and ‘sustainability’ into suspicion when this stuff is part of a reputable paper’s drumbeat of truth.

It comes across as propaganda. It’s not; at least intentionally. It’s just very lazy journalism: a few selectively-framed half-facts packaged to tell a little story that we want to be true. Fabricating a trend, and then over-implying its significance, does more harm than good.

And there is some truth in there. Some portions of teens – the 16-18 year olds – really are getting fewer licenses, according to the data. However, this is quickly offset by equal increases in licenses from 19-21 year olds. The result is a minor net increase in the numbers of these “young people” getting licenses between 2003-2013.

“Our future will be carbon-neutral (because young people are getting fewer licenses)!”. “US abandoning suburbs for city living!”. These narratives carry a lot of weight, and a lot of people would like them to be unreservedly true. But at present they’re not. They’re not even trending towards those absolute ends.

 

“Twirling! Twirling! Twirling towards Freedom!”

Minus the bombast, there are some relative truths. There are fewer young drivers of certain ages than before. The ratio of suburban-to-urban home construction is slightly less exaggerated than in previous decades. This is good news.

But middle class white flight has never abated in the US, especially in the northeast. New highway construction still wildly outpaces new transit, especially in Alberta. A lot more new homes are still built in the suburbs than in the city, especially everywhere.

It’s good to recognize sustainable trends, but better not to overstate or misrepresent their significance. Our problems aren’t solving themselves, no matter how badly two reporters from The Province are in need of a paycheque.