Auto/Economy
3:51 pm
Tue May 1, 2012

Michigan is home to the Motor City, but what if young people stop driving?

In a state like Michigan, with a history that's virtually inseparable from that of the automobile, it might be hard to imagine a life without cars. But according to  a recent report, an increasing number of the nation's young people are choosing to drive less or not to drive at all.

The report found that:

  • From 2001 to 2009, the annual number of vehicle miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita—a drop of 23 percent.
  • From 2000 to 2010, the share of 14 to 34-year-olds without a driver’s license increased from 21 percent to 26 percent.

The report also shows a marked increase amongst young people in the use of alternative transportation methods like walking and biking in the past ten years.

After reporting on this story, WNYC's The Takeaway received a flood of feedback from young people offering their reasons for driving less, including this brief sampling: 

The top reason was the cost of the gas, as well as the cost of cars.

A listener from Independence, Kansas texted: Less driving for me means that i don’t have to waste as much of my life at underpaying jobs to afford gas, insurance, maintainence, and car payment.

Several listeners said their concern for the environment factored in to their decision to drive less.

Nicolas Seguin wrote: We are more eco-aware than previous generations.

Many said they didn’t enjoy the driving experience or being dependant on a car. Walking, biking and even mass transit, as they see it, are more fun and less stressful.

Jeanette Pierce from Detroit wrote: I live in Detroit (yes, the Motor City) and I got rid of my car in November because I just wasn’t driving it enough (once a month sometimes). I walk to 98% of the things I need/want to. It’s great. I don’t have to worry about traffic and I don’t know what gas costs. it’s awesome!

A similar study from the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute looked at the changing number of young people with driver's licenses in 15 countries. It found a correlation between increasing internet use and decreasing licensing rates over the past quarter century.

Michael Sivak, one of the study's authors said "we think that the main reason for the lower licensing rates of young persons in the U.S. now than 25 years ago is that access to virtual contact (through electronic means) reduced the need for actual contact among some young people," adding cheekily "Furthermore, some young people feel that driving interferes with texting."

And one commentor on the Takeaway story from Mt. Clemens offered a perspective from Michigan's signature industry:

I’m with Chevrolet and we are working extensively on this opportunity. We think its a combination of factors inc. there r few cars that truly meet [young people's] needs.

You can listen to some of the voicemail responses the Takeaway received from young listeners below.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom