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Why are young people driving less than previous generations?

Posted on 18 July 2018 by Alun Humphrey, Head of Household Surveys .

Big changes are occurring among young people’s travel behaviour, and what this means for the future has again been highlighted today.

New analysis by the Commission on Travel Demand has noted how much less younger people are driving compared with previous generations.

Crucially, their analysis has called into question forecasts of future growth in road use; and by extension, the future of road-building and investment in other forms of transport.

The analysis shows that people in general are making fewer trips, and that young people in particular are not traveling as much – or as far – as they used to. Figures for the National Travel Survey (NTS) support this.

For example, driving licence holding among the young has decreased sharply in recent years. In the early 1990s, 48% of 17 to 20 year-olds held a licence, but by 2016 this had fallen to 31%. Over the same period, the proportion of 21 to 29 year-olds with a licence also fell; from 75% to 66%.

There are a number of reasons for these changes, including younger people being more likely to be in higher education or lower paid, less secure jobs, increased urbanisation, lower levels of home ownership and delays in starting a family, as well things such as increased digital social interaction at the expense of face-to-face interaction. (Chatterjee et al 2018).

In the NTS, when we talk to people about why they haven’t learnt to drive, it is clear that cost is the main issue. 44% of 17 to 20 year-olds said that the cost of learning to drive was a reason, 31% mentioned the cost of insurance, and 28% the cost of buying a car. Obviously, if you are less likely to be in employment, you are less likely to be able to afford a car.

As the Commission on Travel Demand points out, this is important because of what it means for the future. If young people now are less reliant on the car then previous generations and this continues into their later adulthood, then perhaps we as a society will be less reliant on cars than would otherwise have been the case.

Obviously, this reduction will be at least somewhat offset by growth in the population but nonetheless, the implications for investment in roads are clear.

And what about further advances in technology? As a parent, I wonder whether my children will even need to learn to drive at all (my daughter has already stated that she is going to ‘get a Google Car’ when she is older).

Such advances will undoubtedly influence not only whether people learn to drive but how they do so. And make it even more difficult to predict the future as a result.

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