Over the last couple of years, someone notices that young people aren’t driving as much and then makes a pronouncement about the death of Car Culture. Last week in the NY Times (boldface mine):
But America’s love affair with its vehicles seems to be cooling. When adjusted for population growth, the number of miles driven in the United States peaked in 2005 and dropped steadily thereafter, according to an analysis by Doug Short of Advisor Perspectives, an investment research company. As of April 2013, the number of miles driven per person was nearly 9 percent below the peak and equal to where the country was in January 1995. Part of the explanation certainly lies in the recession, because cash-strapped Americans could not afford new cars, and the unemployed weren’t going to work anyway. But by many measures the decrease in driving preceded the downturn and appears to be persisting now that recovery is under way. The next few years will be telling….
Demographic shifts in the driving population suggest that the trend may accelerate. There has been a large drop in the percentage of 16- to 39-year-olds getting a license, while older people are likely to retain their licenses as they age, Mr. Sivak’s research has found.
As always it’s those damn kids with their internets:
A study last year found that driving by young people decreased 23 percent between 2001 and 2009. The millennials don’t value cars and car ownership, they value technology — they care about what kinds of devices you own, Ms. Sheller said. The percentage of young drivers is inversely related to the availability of the Internet, Mr. Sivak’s research has found. Why spend an hour driving to work when you could take the bus or train and be online?
I think Sivak is missing a key point: driving is no longer fun except in sparsely populated areas–which are precisely those areas with poor internet penetration. Hard as it is for people to believe (or remember), driving used to be enjoyable in a lot of places. Mind you, not during rush hour or in dense, urban areas, but it’s now pretty miserable driving in suburban areas, which are quite dense–and which usually haven’t increased the capacity of the road system, especially on the back roads.
So why would car culture, in the traditional sense, thrive? Consider car commercials: most either show amenities that are useful in traffic or else feature driving late at night or in rural areas (e.g., truck commercials). They almost never feature 0 – 60 mph times, which were a mainstay of ads twenty years ago–when the hell are you ever going to accelerate like that?
Once driving primarily becomes a mode of transport and not something enjoyable, it’s no surprise that other alternatives, if available, are preferred, especially if they’re cheaper.