The Decline Of Driving?

by Stuart Shapiro

While Americans dither of climate change, demographic preferences are slowly making a difference.  According to a new report, younger people are avoiding car purchases.

Their two big findings about young people and driving:

  • The average annual number of vehicle miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) in the U.S. decreased by 23 percent between 2001 and 2009, falling from 10,300 miles per capita to just 7,900 miles per capita in 2009.
  • The share of 14 to 34-year-olds without a driver’s license increased by 5 percentage points, rising from 21 percent in 2000 to 26 percent in 2010, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Young people are also making more use of transit, bikes, and foot power to get around. In 2009, 16 to 34-year-olds took 24 percent more bike trips than they took in 2001. They walked to their destinations 16 percent more often, while their passenger miles on transit jumped by 40 percent.

And it is not just the economy that is leading to this change.

A survey by the National Association of Realtors conducted in March 2011 revealed that 62 percent of people ages 18-29 said they would prefer to live in a communities with a mix of single family homes, condos and apartments, nearby retail shops, restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as workplaces, libraries, and schools served by public transportation.  A separate 2011 Urban Land Institute survey found that nearly two-thirds of 18 to 32-year-olds polled preferred to live in walkable communities.

It is far too little to make a significant dent in climate change but if Generation Y’s preferences hold as they start families, then it could lead to less dependence on oil and all of the environmental and national security costs that the dependence entails.

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