For Millennials, A Car Can be Drag City

April 9, 2012

In an era when you are more likely to get lucky from having an effective social media presence than sparkling hubcaps, fewer and fewer young people are buying into the once enshrined US car culture.

No wonder the Foxis of Evil is panicking about electric vehicles.

Boston Globe:

Driving is becoming so last century.

Since the end of World War II, getting a driver’s license has been a rite of passage for teens, but that’s less and less the case. The share of people in their teens, 20s and 30s with driver’s licenses has dropped significantly over the past three decades, not only the United States, but also in some other wealthy nations with a high proportion of Internet users, transportation researchers have found.

One possible explanation: Virtual contact through the Internet and other electronic means is reducing the need for face-to-face visits among young people, researchers say.

From 1983 to 2008, the share of 16- to 39-year-olds with driver’s licenses declined markedly, with the greatest decreases among drivers in their late teens and early 20s, according to a study at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor. About 69 percent of 17-year-olds had a driver’s license in 1983. By 2008, that had dropped to 50 percent. Among Americans ages 20 to 24 in 1983, nearly 92 percent had driver’s licenses. Twenty-five years later, it was 82 percent.

The older the age group, the less dramatic the declines, the Michigan study found. But even among 35- to 39-year-olds, there was a 3.2 percent decline in the share of licensed drivers.

More recent data from the Federal Highway Administration indicates the trend has continued, according to a report released Thursday by the Frontier Group, an environmental organization, and the consumer-oriented U.S. PIRG Education Fund. The share of 20- to 34-year-olds without a driver’s license decreased from 89.6 percent in 2000 to 84.3 percent in 2010, the report said.

I reported not long ago on Lester Brown’s reasons for optimism about a turn away from the fossil fueled society.

In fact, oil use has fallen fast in the United States over the last four years, thus reversing another long-term trend of rising consumption. The reasons for this include a shrinkage in the size of the national fleet, the rising fuel efficiency of new cars, and a reduction in the miles driven per vehicle.

Fleet size peaked at 250 million cars in 2008 just as the number of cars being scrapped eclipsed sales of new cars. Aside from economic conditions, car sales are down because many young people today are much less automobile-oriented than their parents.

In addition, the fuel efficiency of new cars, already rising, will soon increase sharply. The most recent efficiency standards mandate that new cars sold in 2025 use only half as much fuel as those sold in 2010. Thus with each passing year, the U.S. car fleet becomes more fuel-efficient, using less gasoline.

Miles driven per car are declining because of higher gasoline prices, the continuing recession, and the shift to public transit and bicycles. Bicycles are replacing cars as cities create cycling infrastructure by building bike paths, creating dedicated bike lanes, and installing sidewalk parking racks. Many U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, and New York, are introducing bike-sharing programs.

Furthermore, when people retire and no longer commute, miles driven drop by a third to a half. With so many baby boomers now retiring, this too will lower gasoline use.

9 Responses to “For Millennials, A Car Can be Drag City”

  1. climatehawk1 Says:

    Two n’s in millennials (I only mention because it’s the headline). Thanks, great post, good to know that there is a positive trend out there.


  2. I’m 27 and proud of not having a driver’s license. And I’m doing just fine, thank you very much.

    • climatehawk1 Says:

      Excellent. I have a friend who lives in the city and uses Zipcar when she needs an auto. She’s very happy with it.

  3. Peter Mizla Says:

    The cult of the car in this country will hopefull fade away in the times ahead.

  4. Mike Says:

    I would hope there would be a similar trend in my country, Australia, at least in the cities. Unfortunately though, public transport infrastructure in many of our cities is very poor and when you get away from the city fringe, owning a vehicle is a necessity. I’m also told that it is a uniquely Australian thing but when asking an Australian how far it is to drive from say Brisbane to Sydney, he/she will more than likely answer, “about 10-11 hours” rather than, “900km”. This is a reflection of the often large distances we are used to travelling to go anywhere. Bring on long range charge cars!


  5. Don’t want to or cannot afford to buy?

    • climatehawk1 Says:

      Good question. For my friend the Zipcar lady, it is definitely a matter of environmental responsibility. I think a close reading of the articles indicates there are a number of contributing factors.


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