Are Teens Losing Interest In Driving?
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.
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:
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.
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:
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