Driving less now and forever?

America reached peak gasoline in 2007, i.e. Americans are unlikely ever to use as much gasoline again as we did in five years ago. Most of this comes from people driving less, something most people thought would never happen. This is good. U.S. CO2 emissions have been dropping for years. And it is not only because of hard times. Young people just don’t seem to want to drive as much.

My parents never owned a car and I did not buy my first car until I was twenty-nine years old. I don't drive much even today. I prefer to ride my bike or walk. One of my "lifestyle choices" is to shop and find entertainment near places I can walk, bike or take public transportation. I find a cultural gulf with friends who grew up with cars. They will drive long distances to get to the "best" restaurant or store. Not me. They think I am silly for satisfying; I think they are silly for being so demanding about things that make little difference.

My kids are not really car people. They choose their activities based on location. Evidently, this is the way many young people think. It used to be that kids got their driver's license as soon as they could, often when they were only sixteen. Today, fewer and fewer seem to care. A full third of young people ages 16-24 have not bothered to learn to drive. If this trend continues, it means big changes.

Perhaps we just missed some big changes in how people live. On the one side, Internet makes it less necessary to leave home. Kids can meet friends w/o going out. This is not always a good thing. It probably contributes to the growing girth of the American population. But another trend is urbanization.

Young people are moving to urban areas that are walkable. But urban areas are also moving to where people live. C&J have owned the same home since 1997. It used to be in the suburbs. Today it has become as city. I could always walk to the Metro. Now I can walk to all sorts of restaurants, movies and stores.

Higher gas prices probably helped kick this off, but I think it has now become self sustaining. Another important trend has been the reduction in crime. Many people like to live in urban environments, but were pushed out of cities by crime. Reduce crime and you bring back vitality to urban areas.

The only thing missing from the urban equation is good schools. Good schools were the reason we moved to the suburbs. Urban schools still largely suck, which is one reason that many affluent urban areas are almost child free. Some people like it that way, but divorcing affluent people from children is not good for the future.

No matter how successful you are, you will probably have only around thirty years of productive working life. After that, you will depend on the production of people younger than you are. If you cheaped on their education and neglected their development, your life will be worse. But that is a subject for a different post.

Posted by Christine & John at September 15, 2013 8:18 AM
Comment #370732


I haven’t noticed the youth driver’s license trend. It seems far-fetched to me. My son received his learner’s permit at the end of April. Stay tuned.

That said, I think living close to many attractions with a great transportation hub is very cool.

I did not recognize this until I went to grad school in west Philadelphia in 2000 - 2004. And then taking notice each time that I traveled to other cities and states with great public transportation choices.

I personally love to drive, so your topic is foreign to my experience.

Posted by: Kevin L. Lagola at September 15, 2013 10:58 AM
Comment #370733

I got my license at age 17, but I was kicking and screaming as my Dad dragged me to the RMV. I drive today because I live with my parents in a part of suburban Boston where public transit options aren’t very good. However, as soon as I get a full-time job, it is fully my intention to move into the city so that I can ditch the car. I’d probably join zipcar or something so that I can still take weekend trips to hike, but that’s it.

Simply put, driving is way to expensive. And it isn’t just the cost of gasoline. Owning & maintaining a car is a lot of money as well as insuring it.

Posted by: Warren Porter at September 15, 2013 11:05 AM
Comment #370738

Kevin and Warren

I think you both identify the generational divide.

I like to drive on an open road w/o much traffic. Such roads are becoming less and less easy to find.

I spend some time in São Paulo, Brazil where traffic is among the worst in the world. I notice people make lots of choices based on traffic. At some point, the trip becomes not worth the fight, so people only a few miles from each other meet by Skype or go to a central place where they can walk.

There are still lots of car places. But the idea that a car is always and everywhere the choice has been much compromised in recent times. I think it is a good trend. Auto firms are less sanguine about it.

Posted by: CJ at September 15, 2013 11:21 AM
Comment #375352

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