Are Teens Losing Interest In Driving?

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For decades, it’s been assumed that Americans “love their cars,” that they enjoy driving, etc. However, recent data indicates that Americans are beginning to lose a little bit of interest in driving…especially younger Americans.

Teens losing interest in cars

Teens are losing interest in cars, with good reason. Cars are expensive, teens don’t have money, and social media is changing the way kids interact.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, the number of vehicle miles traveled during the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period last year was down, and it has been dropping each year since 2007. What’s more, a decreased interest in driving has been particularly noticeable among teenagers.

For many of us, the lack of enthusiasm for cars among teens is confounding. In the 60′s, 70′s, 80′s and 90′s, a car was the key to teenage life. It got you to parties, the local hangout, the movies…not to mention that a LOT of us did some serious “studying” in our cars during our teen years (fond memories indeed).

Nonetheless, the days of teenagers clamoring to get their driver’s licenses and sit behind the wheel seem to be dwindling. The main reasons:

1. Vehicle ownership costs are higher than ever. The cost of owning and maintaining a vehicle has increased sharply in the last 50 years. This chart from The Atlantic shows this increase in real dollars:

Vehicle ownership costs escalating

Vehicle ownership costs are falling on a per-mile-traveled basis, but the “overhead” associated with owning a car is higher than ever. Image via The Atlantic.

and this growth exceeds the rate of inflation (but only by a little bit). While vehicle operating costs per mile have actually fallen a bit due to better fuel economy, reduced maintenance costs, and improved reliability, teens don’t see the benefits of that improved cost per mile because they don’t drive nearly as much as an adult who commutes to and from work daily. Speaking of work…

2. Teenage employment rates are down. Bureau of Labor statistics show pretty clearly that teenagers (workers aged 16-19) are working less and less each year.

Teen employment rates falling

The percentage of teens with jobs is lower than ever…note the section of the graph highlighted in the yellow circle. That’s a big drop in the last 10 years. Image via AmericanProgress.org.

While there may be some argument about why this is happening (some teens are undoubtedly choosing not to work), there can be no argument that:

  • Many teens don’t have a job, and therefore don’t have a need for a car and,
  • Teens without jobs likely don’t have as much discretionary income as those with jobs

Thus, a good (albeit partial) explanation for the declining interest in cars among teens.

3. Insurance rates are sky-high for teens. While teenagers are demonstrably more dangerous behind the wheel, the premium they’re forced to pay to get behind the wheel is perhaps a bit too much:

youth-car-insurance-costs

Why should teens drive when they’re paying nearly twice as much as their parents for car insurance? It makes a lot of financial sense to wait until age 20 to start driving, or perhaps even 25…saves you a lot of money to do so.

4. Today’s teens have tools that never existed before. Have you ever used Twitter to find a ride to the mall? Me neither. But according to this NPR report, a good percentage of teens are using Twitter, Facebook, etc. to find teens who have cars and get a ride from them.

Rather than invest in a car, teens are “crowd sourcing” their transportation, finding people who can give them a ride in exchange for a meal or some gas money.

What’s more, many teens say that they’re able to use Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. to interact with their peers. While it seems a bit dubious that teens can use social media to do everything – I don’t know of a way to make-out with a girl via Twitter – it seems plausible that teens have learned to live with reduced person-to-person contact. Thus, a car is not nearly as essential as it once was.

5. There is also an environmental aspect to driving that some teens care about. As more and more people become aware of the potential harm vehicles pose to the environment, they turn to more eco-friendly modes of transportation. Biking, public transportation, etc.

If you take all these facts into consideration, the decreasing interest in driving among teenagers is pretty understandable. While I’d like to think that this trend will change, the odds are good that it’s only going to continue. Until someone finds a way to either a) make vehicles more affordable or b) make it easier/more enticing for teens to get a job, the economic reality is that many teens will not drive.

Guest author Jordan Perch is an automotive fanatic and “green cars” specialist. He is an author of many how-to articles related to safe driving, green technologies, auto insurance etc. 

Filed Under: Auto News

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  1. Larry says:

    Who needs a car when you can spend your time playing Grand Theft Auto without ever picking up a set of keys.

  2. LJC says:

    My 10 year old son has been eyeing my Tundra since he was 8 and has been able to do a Rockford in his pedal car since he was 9–now he’s trying to drift his pedal car.

  3. mk says:

    Don’t even get me started on car insurance. My 15 year old girl just started classes for driving. Dreading the day in December or January when she gets her temps and starts driving. But, NO car for her unlike other spoiled kids and won’t be driving my tundra. Will be the wife’s SUV or even my 250cc scooter. I can tell you one thing if she wants to drive, she will be paying for her own gas or helping out with the insurance rate increase in next few months.

    I find it crazy the insurance companies can charge 2-3x the cost, if not more, for premiums just to have a 16 year old drive the family vehicle 1-2x per month is all. So crazy high in rates it makes me puke!

    I never had a vehicle to drive until age 18 and think that was fine with me, only drove the 1986 chevy caprice classic, which still runs to this date, like 1-2x per month is all. Didn’t need a car until college and my kids will be the same way although my younger 12 year old boy thinks the boat machine 1986 caprice is going to be his ride come age 16, will see how that one goes since is only worth 800 bucks and will only have liability on it for insurance reasons. Maybe cheaper going that route and let him have it vs. adding onto our newer vehicles, but my 15 year old daughter won’t be caught dead in it is not ‘cool’ enough for her and way too old.

  4. Justin says:

    Having a 17yr old, the biggest factor (IMHO) is technology and expectations.

    These kids have the internet to communicate via facebook, twitter, email, cell (smart)phones and any other mode of communication. Heck, email and internet were in their infancy when I was in school, cell/car phones could only be had by the rich and pagers were the way of contacting someone other than my a landline.

    You also have a lot more tech. items that kids (or their parents) are spending their money on. Internet, video game systems, I-pods/pads, more costly/better cable/satellite TV service, etc. Parents are more tapped out with the purchase of such products, and because of said technology and products, kids aren’t as interested in getting out doors or seeing a friend since they can do it all from their bedroom. Unlike mine and older generations, we wanted to get out and have freedom and a vehicle allowed this.

    Lastly, a recent Auto Trader study (http://www.scribd.com/doc/1626.....ls-Survey#), show this upcoming generation have high expectations in the vehicle they deserve and reflects their personality. Three of the Top 5 makes listed were BMW, Mercedes and Audi. Nice to dream.

    As for my 17yr old, she got her license and started driving in May. Added to mine and the wife’s insurance plan, with mortgage insurance and various other forms of receiving a discount, it raised our rates about $600 ever 6-months for her to drive the wife’s old ’04 Altima.

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