Irwin Fucking Fletcher! Why do I have to keep writing this? Didn't we go through this with the New York Times already? Dear Associated Press and anyone else writing an automotive trend piece: Commuting Culture does not equal Car Culture.
If you hate yourself this morning, you can go read the AP article titled "Americans Driving Less as Car Culture Wanes" on any number of sites that syndicate AP wire reports.
Like every one of these trend articles, they start out with real and important stats about the collective number of miles driven in the U.S. peaking in 2007 and dropping ever since. They also point to a decline in people under 30 getting a license to drive. All relevant issues.
They also, fairly, acknowledge that this might be an economic and structural issue. This is almost certainly the case and worth a deeper discussion, which they'll sort of get to.
Unfortunately, this article then follows the typical playbook of looking for a deeper reason that has almost zero hard evidence behind it.
The other camp acknowledges that economic factors are important but says the decline in driving also reflects fundamental changes in the way Americans view the automobile. For commuters stuck in traffic, getting into a car no longer correlates with fun. It's also becoming more of a headache to own a car in central cities and downright difficult to park.
Yes. That's not car culture. No one sings songs about how they love driving their Toyota Prius in traffic. That's commuter culture. That's a side effect of poor urban planning, sprawling suburbs, and cheap gas. You can love cars and car culture and choose, by virtue of living in a city, not to own a car.
Then the article really goes off the rails.
"The idea that the car means freedom, I think, is over," said travel behavior analyst Nancy McGuckin.
TRAVEL BEHAVIOR ANALYST
"The car as a fetish of masculinity is probably over for certain age groups," McGuckin said. "I don't think young men care as much about the car they drive as they use to."
Ok. So a car culture can only be supported by men? Historically, that's the case, but since we're just pulling anecdotal evidence out of our collective asses let me say that I know a lot of young women who care about car culture. Also…
There's also a driving gender gap. In a role reversal, there are now more women than men in the U.S. with driver's licenses. And the declines in miles driven over the past decade were more widespread among men than women, according to Pickrell and Pace. Driving by men has declined in every age group except those 65 or older, where it increased slightly.
Eventually, the article comes around to the real point.
There are several economic factors that help explain the trends. Driving declines exactly mirror job losses among men during the recession, when male-dominated industries like manufacturing and construction were especially hard hit, researchers said. But average automobile use has declined recently even among those who have remained employed.
Economists say many Americans, especially teens and young adults, are finding that buying and owning a car stretches their financial resources. The average price of a new car is $31,000, according to the industry-aligned Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Absolutely. Numbers, facts, research, and a little common sense shows that there are reasons why young people are not buying cars that has nothing to do with older people not understanding that car culture is more than just a bunch of sweaty dudes huddled around a Chevy Hot Rod.
It's this kind of thinking that leads the writers of these pieces to think it's necessary to include these false, largely unsupported arguments.
Commuter Culture can die and take all the Camrycordltimas with it. I, as someone who loves cars, hope that's the case.
Car culture can still thrive. It can include women. It can include people who modify their cars not with hotter cams but with re-flashed ECUs. Young people can take transit and put off buying a car until they get something they want and not just something they need.
There's a reason why Top Gear is the most watched 'factual' TV show on earth. Cars are still fun. Being broke as shit and stuck in the suburbs is not.
Photo Credits: Dinomite/Flickr, Getty Images