The Western love affair with cars may be over. The FT reports that the number of UK teenagers taking driving tests has fallen by about 18 percent since 2007. For 20-somethings, the drop is about 10 percent. Even licensed drivers are driving less: many don’t have cars, and those who do are clocking less miles. The US, Germany, and Japan are all seeing similar trends.
The high prices of car insurance and the global recession partly explain these surprising findings. According to the FT, the cost of insurance for drivers between 17 and 22 has exploded since 2010, rising by more than 80 percent. Underemployment and low wages discourage investment in big ticket items like cars and houses, and the price of gas makes young adults think twice before starting up the car.
But this isn’t the whole story. Experts argue that driving among teenagers has been declining for ten years, since before the recession even hit, so something else must be going on. Some say the increased use of social networking, cell phones, and other tools that connect us across long distances are making today’s young people less hooked on cars than their parents were.
We tend to associate mobility with modernity, but that relationship may break down in the 21st century. Future generations are likely to spend less time commuting (whether by car or mass transit), less time prowling far flung malls in the ‘burbs, less time on business travel. New technology is already making it more efficient to interact virtually with co-workers, customers, clients, and friends than to move physically from place to place, and such long-distance interaction is only going to get easier as time goes on.
Cars have long been a symbol of freedom and independence in America, and learning to drive was seen as perhaps the most important step to adulthood. But new innovations and Generation Y may be joining forces to change all that.