The America that has been immortalized in films like Grease and American Graffiti, with its car-centric culture, may soon be a thing of the past. Recent analysis shows that not only are younger Americans driving less, but they seem to be less interested in cars in general. The number of people who own a car and the number of licensed drivers are on the way down, and the trend shows no signs of slowing.
The recession no doubt had a part in reducing drivers, less income means fewer cars being purchased, but the downturn for driving happened prior to the recession, starting in 2005. In fact, the number of miles driver per person has dropped by 9-percent since the peak. Not an insignificant amount. With recovery on the uptick, researchers are curious to see what happens to those numbers as people start having more disposable income once again.
Some researchers believe that the changes are more of a cultural shift away from car culture. It seems as though today’s youth is more interested in the technology you have than the car you drive, and would rather spend their time commuting on public transit with wi-fi than spending that time behind the wheel. In fact, driving among youth decreased 23-percent from 2001 to 2009.
Public policy may also have a part to play in the shift. Bike-sharing programs, walkable communities and a higher cost of driving encourages people to find ways to walk, car-pool or use public transit. The result, if the trend continues, could be fantastic for the environment. Vehicles are the second largest polluter in the country, and fewer drivers equal fewer emissions. Unfortunately, it looks like China has picked up our slack, where personal car ownership has increased by 10-percent annually.