We're all well versed in "The Problem" with young people these days. No, it's not that all they want to do is use DMT, go to rainbow parties and listen to Skrillex instead of getting jobs, it's that they aren't into cars or driving. New data shows just how much driving has plunged in the U.S. Are the kids to blame?
This chart was compiled by Doug Short at Advisor Perspectives and highlighted recently by the Washington Post calculate estimated total miles driven by Americans adjusted for population growth based on Department of Transportation data. It shows that we're down to our lowest level of miles driven since 1995 and way down from the peak in 2005.
The Post ascribes this drop to several factors. Climbing gas prices are one. There's also the fact that members of the Baby Boomer generation, a huge demographic, are now advancing into their twilight years and driving less.
But it would seem that young drivers aren't really taking their place. The Post's story cites a study that indicates "between 2001 and 2009, the average yearly number of miles driven by 16- to 34-year-olds dropped a staggering 23 percent."
They list the same reasons for this we've all heard by now. Fewer jobs for young people means fewer car purchases; their social interaction revolves around cell phones; many of them prefer living in big cities where cars are unnecessary; and it's harder to get a driver's license because many states require more behind-the-wheel training than previously. (I actually think the last one is a good thing.) They also note rising insurance rates, and the fact that this isn't unique to the U.S.
I don't think it's wise to ascribe a drop in driving entirely to young drivers not needing or wanting cars, but this seems to indicate a cultural shift is at work here.
And as much as we enthusiasts bitch and moan about it, I do think that many young people have valid reasons for not wanting to drive (except the cell phone thing, which is just kind of dumb.)
The big question — and one we have asked before — is how carmakers will address it. All I know is that pseduo-hip marketing campaigns and Volkswagen Beetles built around iPhones probably won't get to the root of the problem.