Getting a car always seemed like a rite of passage for America’s young people. But yearning for the “freedom of the road” appears to be disappearing as a trait, as young Americans are decreasing the amount they drive and increasing their use of biking, public transit and other alternatives.
Transportation and the New Generation, a study by Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG, found that from 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by young people (age 16 to 34) decreased from 10,300 to 7,900 per capita, a drop of 23 percent. The study cites a host of reasons that young people are driving less—higher gas prices, new licensing laws, improvements in technology that support alternative transportation, changes in millennials’ values and preferences. As a result, it believes that this change is not simply a result of the economy, and that the trend will have an impact for years to come.
Americans are driving less overall, the report notes. In fact, the average American in 2011 was driving 6 percent fewer miles per year than in 2004. This trend appears to be led by young people.
The report notes a number of trends that show young peoples’ embrace of transportation alternatives. For example, in 2009, 16 to 34-year olds as a whole took 24 percent more bike trips than they took in 2001, despite the age group actually shrinking in size by 2 percent. That demographic also walked to destinations 16 percent more frequently in 2009 than in 2001, and traveled 40 percent more public transit miles.
Also, according to the Federal Highway Administration, from 2000 to 2010, the share of 14 to 34 year olds without a driver’s license increased from 21 percent to 26 percent.
Young people’s transportation priorities and preferences are significantly different from older generations. The report cites a survey by KRC Research and Zipcar that indicates that among 18 to 34-year-olds, 45 percent say they have consciously made an effort to replace driving with transportation alternatives. That compares to 32 percent of those 35 or older.
Similarly, many young Americans are settling in places where they can walk, bike or take public transportation—the National Association for Realtors says that young people are most likely to prefer to live in an area characterized by nearby shopping, restaurants, schools and public transportation, as opposed to sprawl.
While the recession has played a role, the report says that the trend toward reduced driving has occurred even among young people who are employed or doing well financially. The average young person (16 to 34) with a job drove 10,700 miles in 2009, compared to 12,800 in 2001.