Younger People Driving Less, Auto Industry Getting Nervous

053110_carsillustration_1.jpgGraph: Ad Age (Source for numbers: US Department of Transportation)

An article published on May 31 in Ad Age about the decline in driving among young Americans has caught the eye of many Streetsblog Network members. The piece — which frames this as a big problem for the automobile industry — posits that the younger generation increasingly sees a wired lifestyle as incompatible with a motorized one:

William Draves blames the Internet. Mr. Draves, president of Lern, a consulting firm which focuses mainly on higher education, and co-author of "Nine Shift," maintains that the digital age is reshaping the U.S. and world early in this century, much like the automobile reshaped American life early in the last century.

His theory is that almost everything about digital media and technology makes cars less desirable or useful and public transportation a lot more relevant. Texting while driving is dangerous and increasingly illegal, as is watching mobile TV or working on your laptop. All, at least under favorable wireless circumstances, work fine on the train. The Internet and mobile devices also have made telecommuting increasingly common, displacing both cars and public transit.

Draves also predicts a trend toward people living near transit hubs, where driving is less essential.

Tom Vanderbilt at How We Drive adds a note of skepticism, pointing out another factor that might be contributing to the numbers (which come from the Federal Highway Administration’s National Household Travel Survey):

[C]onspicuously underplayed [in the Ad Age article] is graduated drivers licensing programs, which have made driving (solo, at any time) at age 16 or 17 a thing of the past in many states (with good reason).

Whatever the combination of contributing factors, it’s interesting to see that the auto and insurance industries are clearly unnerved by the pattern. (h/t @philipashlock)

More from around the network: The Dead Horse Times on the importance of population projections to planning efforts. Biking in LA on a setback in relations between Los Angeles bicyclists and the LAPD. And the Virginia Bicycling Federation on a victory for lower speed limits.