Younger generation choosing to not drive


Gabe Shertz, 25, on a shared scooter near his South Philadelphia home in the United States. Photo: TNS

For decades, cars have held a primary place in American culture.

They’ve transported us, restless and free, toward new adventure down a winding road – or just to the nearest cafe. A young person often divided life into two periods: Before getting a driver’s licence, and after.

Cars have influenced movies, including a spate of Fast & Furious films in recent years. And we’ve long written songs about them – Little Red Corvette, by Prince; Fast Car, by Tracy Chapman; Drive My Car, by the Beatles.

But nowadays, as American car manufacturers announce the end of production of once beloved high-octane highway stalwarts such as the Chevrolet Camaro and the Dodge Challenger, it appears that fewer young people are enamoured of cars and of driving (Olivia Rodrigo’s 2021 song Drivers License notwithstanding).

“Absolutely not as many people in my generation are driving,” said Gabe Shertz, 25, of South Philadelphia, in the United States, a communications specialist for the nonprofit Action Wellness, which helps people living with chronic diseases. He’s part of Generation Z, whose members were born between 1997 and 2013.

“I grew up in Elkton, Maryland, where you needed a car. But since I came to Philadelphia five years ago, I haven’t relied on one. A lot of people my age here are transitioning to scooters and ebikes. We’re motivated by the climate crisis and gas emissions.

“Another part is the cost. I’ve spent more on a car than I’ve ever gotten use out of it.”

Statistics back Shertz up.

In 1997, 43% of teenagers had their licence by age 16, and 62% had it by age 17, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. By 2020, the numbers had dropped to 25% and 45%, respectively.

The Washington Post reported in February that almost 90% of 20- to 25-year-olds had licences in 1997. By 2020, it was 80%.

In January 2022, the journal Transportation Research looked at driving by generation. Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) are driving 8% less than Generation X (1965 to 1980), and 9% less than younger baby boomers (1956 to 1964).

One reason the journal reported: The rise of remote work may have eliminated commuting for nearly 40 million people. And the explosion of online shopping and delivery has obviated the need for a drive to the mall.

Many young adults don’t drive simply because of the rising costs of purchasing and maintaining cars, according to the Brookings Institution.

“I haven’t had enough money to afford a car, and I’ve made a point of moving to a place where I don’t have to rely on one,” said Charlie Huemmler, 24, of Fishtown, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania studying aspects of city planning.

“Also, for environmental reasons, I don’t want to support the fossil-fuel business.”

Others have reported they fear cars and driving.

“I have a licence, but I dream about car crashes, and I’m scared of being on the road,” said Sofia Spadotto, 24, of Center City, a technology consultant who doesn’t drive.

“This generation is very aware that if something bad were to happen to them physically, they’d need really good insurance to not impact their finances, and a lot of people don’t have access to that.”

Thomas Keller, 27, an architect in Northern Liberties who bikes around town, agreed with Spadotto.

“I go on rants with anti-car beliefs around sustainability and pollution,” he said, “but cars are 5,000lb (2,270kg) killing machines. Cyclists are getting hit by cars, kids are getting hit, with dangerous or dumb people behind the wheel.”

Some commentators have said that, issues of safety and affordability aside, young people don’t drive simply because many believe they don’t have to.

They’re used to staying in touch with friends via social media, and, for good or for ill, many don’t travel to see one another as much to socialise, studies show.

Also, the rise of Uber and Lyft has made it easier for people without automobiles who do want to get around, especially in the suburbs where public transportation can be spotty.

While he doesn’t have access to data on attitudes towards driving, Kevin Mazzucola, executive director of the Auto Dealers Association of Philadelphia, said that he believes young people will still need cars as they age. The association runs the Philadelphia Auto Show.

“When you get married and have a child, even if you held off buying a car, you’ll ultimately have to,” he said.

Mazzucola readily acknowledges his pro-car bias, informed by a baby boomer appreciation of what an automobile can do.

“Getting your own car is a rite of passage when you don’t need your parents to drive you everywhere,” he said. “I had a 1976 Maverick that was beautiful, and I could pick up my dates in it and just go.

“As a teen, you’re busy doing your first experiences in life. And your first first is freedom, which is what a car brings.”

That may have been true once, Spadotto countered. But “all that car culture” romanticism has dissipated, she said.

“In my generation, car nuts are rare. It’s not part of our culture.”

Huemmler had the same thought: “The cost, the congestion, the parking,” he said. A car can actually be quite limiting.

“There’s nothing freeing about it at all.” – Tribune News Service/The Philadelphia Inquirer/Alfred Lubrano

Follow us on our official WhatsApp channel for breaking news alerts and key updates!

Next In Living

Finding your ikigai: A journey of meaning and self-discovery
8 mistakes you’re making on dating apps... and what to do instead
How to make a bookshelf, by a Malaysian self-taught DIYer
Do men eat more meat than women? Yes, but conditions apply
Being Muslim in France is difficult – and that underlines that diversity is indeed a nation's strength
Climate change could make groundwater unsafe for millions
Malaysian women with HIV receive RM5,000 grant to kickstart their business
Old Malaysian house in KL transformed into all-white, yacht-inspired home
Live near airports? Tiny particles emitted by planes risking health of millions
This vet not only makes house calls, he shows up with a mobile office

Others Also Read