Younger People Driving Less, Auto Industry Getting Nervous

053110_carsillustration_1.jpgGraph: Ad Age (Source for numbers: US Department of Transportation)

An article published on May 31 in Ad Age about the decline in driving among young Americans has caught the eye of many Streetsblog Network members. The piece — which frames this as a big problem for the automobile industry — posits that the younger generation increasingly sees a wired lifestyle as incompatible with a motorized one:

William Draves blames the Internet. Mr. Draves, president of Lern, a consulting firm which focuses mainly on higher education, and co-author of "Nine Shift," maintains that the digital age is reshaping the U.S. and world early in this century, much like the automobile reshaped American life early in the last century.

His theory is that almost everything about digital media and technology makes cars less desirable or useful and public transportation a lot more relevant. Texting while driving is dangerous and increasingly illegal, as is watching mobile TV or working on your laptop. All, at least under favorable wireless circumstances, work fine on the train. The Internet and mobile devices also have made telecommuting increasingly common, displacing both cars and public transit.

Draves also predicts a trend toward people living near transit hubs, where driving is less essential.

Tom Vanderbilt at How We Drive adds a note of skepticism, pointing out another factor that might be contributing to the numbers (which come from the Federal Highway Administration’s National Household Travel Survey):

[C]onspicuously underplayed [in the Ad Age article] is graduated drivers licensing programs, which have made driving (solo, at any time) at age 16 or 17 a thing of the past in many states (with good reason).

Whatever the combination of contributing factors, it’s interesting to see that the auto and insurance industries are clearly unnerved by the pattern. (h/t @philipashlock)

More from around the network: The Dead Horse Times on the importance of population projections to planning efforts. Biking in LA on a setback in relations between Los Angeles bicyclists and the LAPD. And the Virginia Bicycling Federation on a victory for lower speed limits.


As Baby Boomers Age, They Take Their Foot Off the Gas

They may be remembered as the driving-est generation. Baby Boomers, who came of age in the heyday of suburbia, have always driven more than any other generation. At the height of their driving years, boomers averaged 51 miles per day. They continue to drive 17 percent more than all other age groups, according to a […]

Five Media Myths That Perpetuate Car Culture

Another day, another news story, another media outlet wielding an old saw like this one: high gas prices are a political problem for the president because Americans “love their cars.” American car culture, fed by everything from our sprawled out landscape to a daily bombardment of car ads, is kept alive by journalists’ use of […]

U.S. PIRG Report: Young Americans Dump Cars for Bikes, Buses

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group has been crunching the numbers on travel preferences among young Americans — and the news is not good for auto makers. The report — Transportation and the New Generation — is chock-full of nuggets like this: Driving is down: “From 2001 to 2009, the annual number of vehicle miles […]

Getting Young People Back Into Cars Is Auto Industry Job #1

While the choked parking lots at many suburban high schools might mislead you, young people today are less interested in driving and owning cars than their counterparts in previous generations. This is happy news for environmentalists and complete streets advocates, who see fewer vehicles on the road as key to a healthier, wealthier society. For […]

Young People on Car Ownership: Meh

Owning a car was once a rite of passage for young Americans on par with algebra and the prom. But, according to a recent report from MSNBC, more young people are sitting out the ritual driver’s tests and the time-honored privilege of getting the keys to a hand-me-down clunker. The number of young adults between […]