Driving has lost its cool for young Americans

I’ve been posting regular updates about the decline in vehicle miles driven in the United States over the last few years. The most recent post is here.

Obviously, much of the decline is related to the weak economy of the last few years and the various spikes in gas prices have played a role too.

But it seems increasingly likely that we might be seeing broader cultural shifts that go beyond the recession’s effects.

Hat tip to Calculated Risk for posting a link to Lisa Hymas’ Driving has lost its cool for young Americans at

From Hymas’ article:

But even though the U.S. lags way behind other developed countries on public transit, American teenagers are increasingly losing interest in driving too. Long gone are the days when a car symbolized ultimate freedom and cruising Main St. was a preferred teen pastime.

In 2008, just 31 percent of American 16-year-olds had their driver’s licenses, down from 46 percent in 1983, according to a new study in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention. The numbers were down for 18-year-olds too, from 80 percent in 1983 to 65 percent in 2008, and the percentage of twenty- and thirtysomethings with driver’s licenses fell as well. And even those with driver’s licenses are trying to drive less; a new survey by car-sharing company Zipcar found that more than half of drivers under the age of 44 are making efforts to reduce the time they spend packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes.

The piece discusses other factors too, including the changing meaning of driving for younger Americans today compared to previous generations. When I turned 16, getting a driver’s license represented the most basic physical freedom. The internet and cell phones offer a kind of freedom to teens and young adults than in previous generations was largely only possible through driving.