Americans Are Driving Less. Are You?

Americans, especially the young, are driving less. We’ve been hearing this for a while now and have recently seen a flurry of new reports, statistics, articles and editorials documenting and trying to explain the downward trend.  The theories put forth are varied and all seem sensible, but at this point, until we see if the driving numbers continue to decline or simply plateau, it’s hard to pinpoint precisely what’s behind it. All we can really do at this point is enjoy taking part in the speculation and ask that you join us with your own insights. Here’s a roundup of some of the most interesting recent articles addressing America’s waning love affair with the car.

In April, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group released a study called Transportation and the New Generation, which found that the average number of vehicle miles traveled by young people, (defined as those between the ages of 16 and 34) in the U.S. declined by 23% between 2001 and 2009. That’s a decrease from 10,300 miles per capita to 7,900 miles per capita – a trend that the writers concluded will likely continue and should shape the direction that transportation policy planners take.

A New York radio show, The Takeaway, covered the U.S. PIRG report in April and received comments from young people all over the country about their reasons for not driving as much as previous generations. Kristen Meinzer compiled those comments into a nice follow-up article which was posted in Transportation Nation. The high cost associated with driving was the top reason cited by commenters, followed by environmental and health concerns.

In March, Slate published an article by Matthew Yglesias in its MoneyBox blog that asks Is E-Commerce Ending Driving? Graphs show that even as the economy has rebounded, vehicle miles driven have not bounced back, “meaning that a certain amount of pre-recession car trips have been permanently replaced by the Internet.”

Drawing from the Slate article, Time published Off the Road: 8 reasons Why We’re Driving Less by Brad Tuttle in April. True to its title, Tuttle gives 8 reasons why we’re driving less, including the rise of telecommuting, unemployment, gas prices, traffic, online shopping, internet/technology, better home entertainment, a shift to urban living and the availability of public transportation.

Car sharing company Zipcar shared the results of their own survey last November showing how people in different age groups answered questions about reducing their car use or not owning a car. Like the other articles, this report focused on the “millenials” (ages 18-34), but it was interesting to see how quickly the age group above them was catching up. In response to the statement, “In the past year, I have consciously made an effort to reduce how much I drive and instead take public transportation, bike/walk or carpool when possible,” 61% of those aged 35-44 agreed, as opposed to 55% of the millenials. Moreover, that 61% represented a 21% jump over the previous year, whereas the millenials only saw a 10% increase in those who agreed with the statement in 2011.

What do you think? Do you think the slowdown in driving is more than a temporary trend? Do you think this is a generational divide in lifestyle choices or a trend that is gradually spreading throughout the nation regardless of age? Which of the likely causes behind the decline in driving resonate with you ?




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