Young People Driving Less Compared to 30 Years Ago

By Joe Eitel April 09, 2012

Several studies conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (MTRI) found that the number of people between the ages of 16 and 39 with driver’s licenses fell significantly in 2008 compared to statistics in 1983. The study pointed to social networking as one of the potential reasons young people are driving less than they did pre-Internet.

The MTRI study found the greatest decrease in teens and people in their early 20s. 1983 statistics showed 69 percent of 17-year-olds had a driver’s license. 2008 figures showed a 50 percent decrease in the number of 17-year-old with a driver’s license. The trend continues for 20-to-24-year-olds, falling from 92 percent in 1983 to 82 percent in 2008.

The study found that the older the age group, the less drastic the difference between 1983 and 2008 statistics.

Michael Sivak, co-author of the MTRI studies, points to several potential factors influencing the decline in young drivers. These factors include a bad economy, influence of social networking, high cost of buying and maintaining a car, and many young adults are choosing to relocate to big cities where mass transit replaces the need for a car.

Sivak stated, where ‘more people use the Internet, there is a lower proportion of drivers.’ It seems that virtual contact has in many ways replaced face-to-face contact, so young adults have less of a need to leave the comfort of their home to interact with others.

Countries other than the U.S. are seeing similar patterns amongst young people. Recent studies found four characteristics common to countries experiencing a decline in young drivers, including the relatively high wealth of the country, older population, many large cities and high Internet usage.

Car makers have known about these statistics for the past five years, said Gloria Bergquist, VP of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. She told the Associated Press, “For generations, the automobile has typified freedom. At 16, many people wanted to get their driver's license because that was the way people connected with their friends.” Now, she said, “We're seeing people connect through their iPhones. That's their primary motivation — they want to be in touch with their friends, so they are less focused on buying a vehicle.”

Statistics published by the Transportation Department’s National Household Travel Survey support the MTRI’s findings, stating the number of miles driven per year by 16-to-34-year-old drivers has decreased by 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

TechZone360 Contributing Writer

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