As reported here before the Great Recession, the formerly inexorable decline in driving came to a sudden halt, and slipped into reverse, a few years ago. A few recent NY Times articles also pinpoint the date of this inflection point to the mid-2000s, when more teenagers began to forego drivers’ licenses:
“[O]ne of the most vexing problems facing the car industry: many young consumers today just do not care that much about cars… In 2008, 46.3 percent of potential drivers 19 years old and younger had drivers’ licenses, compared with 64.4 percent in 1998, according to the Federal Highway Administration, and drivers ages 21 to 30 drove 12 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 1995. Forty-six percent of drivers aged 18 to 24 said they would choose Internet access over owning a car, according to the research firm Gartner.” [Amy Chozick]
Todd & Victoria Buchholz mention a longer-term decline in driving, all the way back to the start of the Millennial generation: an op-ed on declining mobility “in the early 1980s, 80 percent of 18-year-olds proudly strutted out of the D.M.V. with newly minted licenses, according to a study by researchers at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. By 2008 — even before the Great Recession — that number had dropped to 65 percent.”
If anything, the Great Recession and related mass youth unemployment has accelerated this long-term trend: “55 percent of Millennials surveyed have actively made an effort to drive less, up 10 percentage points from 45 percent in 2010, highlighting the growing trend of consciously reducing road time.” (Zipcar via TreeHugger)
Jordan Weissmann at the Atlantic offers a similar link roundup, noting the failure of Toyota’s Scion brand to truly engage with its target youth demographic. A few years in, Scion buyers’ average age was 39 — the lowest in the car industry, but still surprising for a brand created for young consumers, with “mass customization” integral to the buying process and only sold by dealers in major metros. Toyota has apparently had some success since then in bringing that average age down, but its difficulty in doing so amidst almost limitless resources is telling.