Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Streetsblog.net

Young People on Car Ownership: Meh

10:44 AM EDT on November 5, 2010

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 20 and 24 who are licensed to drive dropped by five percent between 1994 and 2008, down to 82 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Among 16-year-olds, just 31 percent held a driver's license in 2008, compared to about 42 percent in 1994. Experts attribute the decline not only to a sour economy, but also to a growing ambivalence among younger generations about driving and car ownership more generally.

Network blog NEOHouston says younger generations' hesitancy to invest in personal automobiles makes sense on a number of levels. It's unfortunate, however, that they've inherited a landscape poorly equipped to accommodate them.

When compared to earlier generations, this generation of 18-35 year-olds seems to be less and less interested in cars. Younger people these days are more interested in spending their money on socializing with friends or the latest technology. They are more and more likely to put off buying a car and take public transit.  Some young people are making the decision to forgo driving altogether.

This is not surprising. The downturn in the economy has been especially rough for younger people. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about the future out there and purchasing a car is often a long-term financial decision. People are unlikely to make such a long-term commitment in a car when they are worried about losing their job.

David Cole, the chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, said that as younger people age, they will eventually be forced to buy an automobile of some kind. I don’t argue with that assertion though I do find it interesting that we, as a society, have made the collective decision to design our cities in such a way as to essentially force citizens to make a substantial private purchase in order to function.  Actually I think it’s more accurate to say that several generations ago people made that collective decision and we are now all living with it to this day.

It will be exciting to see what kind of stamp a new, auto eschewing generation puts on the built transportation environment.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Transport Politic examines the agenda of John Mica, the likely new chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Baltimore Spokes highlights the fact that gas taxes and other user fees are making up a declining share of highway funding. And Steven Can Plan studies the equity effects of priced express lanes, or "Lexus Lanes."

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Friday’s Headlines Are So Fresh and So Clean

The only thing Americans love more than a car is a clean car.

February 23, 2024

CalBike: Tell the Legislature Hands Off Active Transportation Funding

Calbike has an action alert that allows its members to write directly to legislators with their feelings on whether or not the ATP funding should be restored before the legislature votes on the budget in June.

February 22, 2024

Oakland Rips Out Protected Bike Lane on Embarcadero

The city and the councilmember who represents District 2 complain about lack of resources for safety projects, but somehow they have the resources to rip out protected bike lanes.

February 22, 2024

Talking Headways Podcast: The Annual Yonah Freemark Show, Part II

This week, let's talk about transit funding in general and the Roosevelt Boulevard subway in Philadelphia, specifically.

February 22, 2024

State DOTs Spend Even More Money on Highway Expansions Than We Thought

Advocates knew states would go on a highway widening binge when the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed — but they didn't know it would be quite this bad.

February 22, 2024
See all posts