Young Americans Taking a Turn Away From Driving

A recent study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group shows that Americans are curbing their drive times and looking for alternative transportation. From the mid-1940s through 2004, the number of miles driven by Americans steadily increased, but now the number has been steadily decreasing, falling by 6% through 2011. The study shows that the biggest reason for the downturn is that young people are actively seeking out alternative modes of transportation.

According to the National Household Travel Survey, the average number of vehicle-miles traveled by people ages 16-34 decreased by 23% from 2001 through 2009. The actual miles per capita decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900. Researchers concluded that while this is in part due to the lagging economy, it has more to do with a permanent change in the age group's (Generation Y) values and preferences on driving.

Additionally, the data showed exactly how Generation Y's transportation habits were changing. Those within the age group increased their number of bike trips by 24%, walked to where they were going 16% more, and relied on public transit by a shocking 40% more in 2009 as they did in 2001. In fact, from 2000 to 2010, the Federal Highway Administration noted a 5% increase in Generation Y members who do not have a driver's license.

Part of the reason driving this phenomenon may be because of increased fuel prices that have made driving more expensive. According to the study, the average cost for filling up in 2001 was around $1,100 per year in today's dollars. The current price of gasoline has more than doubled, costing drivers $2,300 per year. The change in price is also likely to continue to rise by as much as 26% through 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information.

But while the increased cost in driving has undoubtedly hit most American drivers hard, researchers also point to changes in technology and social networking that, in some cases, leads would-be-drivers to stay home rather than making a trip. Additionally, improvements in website and smart phone application technology make it easier to find and use public transportation. It has also made it easier to participate in car and bike sharing services, especially in America's large metropolitan areas. Beyond these items, public transportation has also become more compatible for younger individuals using cell phones to connect with one another by offering Wi-Fi. This is contrasted to what these same individuals would face if they were behind the wheel — currently, 35 states have outlawed texting while driving, while another nine have banned any cell phone use while driving.

Lastly, today's teens face a much more daunting challenge when it comes getting a drivers' license. As of 2006, every state in the U.S. has enacted Graduated Drivers' Licensing laws. These laws are intended to promote safety among young drivers, but require teen drivers to complete significantly more driver training and fulfill additional supervised driving requirements for permits. This not only increases the cost of driving further, but also takes considerably more time to complete than it did in the past. Lastly, once a young driver obtains a license, they are usually restricted to driving in the daytime without passengers, further removing the social aspect from driving and making it more of a chore. It is likely that the combination of increased fuel prices, easier access to public transportation, and tougher driving laws is leading Generation Y to seek out other means of getting around town.

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