Young people turning away from cars

The University of Michigan has released a study that shows there has been a substantial decrease in the percentage of young people who possess a driver’s license. In addition, data from the Federal Highway Administration’s National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) shows that between 1994 and 2009 there was a drop of 23 percent in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) among 16-29 year olds, while VMT among the general public increased by 8.5 percent in the same period.  These statistics suggest that young people are less automobile-centric in their way of life. 

The author of the study, Michael Sivak, hypothesizes that the ubiquity of social media may be a cause of this decline in VMT. Fortysix percent of drivers aged 18 to 24 said they would choose internet access over owning a car, according to research firm Gartner.  Other reasons for the fall in driving may be tough economic conditions, with many young people simply being unable to afford the high cost of owning and maintaining a car. Younger people are also showing a preference for cities and dense neighborhoods where they can walk and bike, in addition to taking public transit. Concerns about climate change and the environment may also play a role.

This decline has led to car companies overhauling their marketing and design strategies in an attempt to win back market share among youth. Car share company Zipcar has affiliated itself with universities and campus communities to encourage membership among college students, while GM has partnered with MTV to promote their vehicles.

“Overall, the future evolution of these changes will have potentially major implications for future transportation and its consequences,” Sivak said. “Specifically, licensing changes will likely affect the future amount and nature of transportation, transportation mode selected, vehicles purchased, the safety of travel and the environmental consequences of travel.”

Update: A report was released on April 5, 2012 which addresses this issue and the implications for transportation policy in the future. “Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People Are Driving Less and What It Means for Transportation Policy” can be downloaded from our website.