Report Showing a More Permanent Shift Away from Driving

A new report from Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) provides insight into driving trends in the US.

It has been widely speculated that the decreasing miles driven in the past decade was due to the recession and that we’d all go back to normal when resources were less tight, but this new study explores the reasons why driving habits have permanently changed and our transportation policies need to take note.

Here are a few of our takeaways from the study:

  • Millennials (born between 1983 and 2000) are the nation’s largest generation and have the most to gain or lose from our transportation building today.
  • The benefits of fewer miles driven include reduced traffic congestion, fewer deaths and injuries on the roads, reduced expenditures for highway construction and repair, and less air and climate pollution.
  • Between 2001 and 2009, the average number of miles driven by 16-34 year olds dropped by 23%
  • Young people aged 20-30 are less likely to move to the suburbs from central cities.
  • Drivers licensing has declined from 85% to 73% between 1996 and 2010.
  • Young people are not the only Americans driving less.  “Americans now drive no more in total than we did in 2004 and no more on average that we did at the beginning of President Bill Clinton’s second term in office.

The report then explored the factors that might be contributing to decreased driving in the past few decades and found some of the following highlights:

  • While the Great Recession contributed to unemployment and falling incomes, driving fell among young people with jobs during the 2000s too.
  • The numbers of young people living at home had been before the Great Recession, so that trend is not completely explained by the recession.
  • Millennials turning 16 today have no living memory of consistently cheap gas.
  • Millennials consistently report a greater interest in lifestyles that do not require driving.
  • The Millennials are a tech saavy generation and mobile phones and ride sharing programs make mobility less dependent on car ownership.

The report also offers suggestions for what to do with the data they discovered:

  • Factor these trends into transportation plans now.
  • Incorporate uncertainty into transportation investments, knowing that driving will likely continue its decline.
  • Take advantage of the shift in priorities and expand access to transportation options.

And here’s their conclusion:

“For these reasons, America should not just accommodate Millennials’ desire to drive less, but actively encourage it.  Cities across the nation are leading the way by expanding public transportation options, building new bicycle and pedestrian infrastucture, and opening the doors for an array of innovative new technology-based transportation services.  State and federal governments should assist and promote those efforts, while changing transportation policies and investment strategies that undermine the development of walkable communities with access to a variety of transportation.”

You can find the full report here – http://uspirg.org/reports/usp/millennials-motion