Why Are Millennials Driving Less?

It’s commonly accepted that millennials (those born between 1983 and 2000) are driving less than previous generations, contributing to a multiyear drop in per capita vehicle miles traveled in the US.  But why exactly are they driving less?  And will the trend hold as they age?  The answers carry huge policy implications, particularly for our transportation and land use decision-making.  Both processes put in place infrastructure designed to last decades.

More fun than driving

More fun than driving?

Emily Badger at the Washington Post tackles this question.  Her basic conclusion is that it’s likely a mix of factors, from a down economy to the rise of technology (mainly smart phones) to a cultural shift about cars.  And of course, more study will be needed to see how permanent the shifts are over time.

One interesting economic factor she cites is that the high cost of living may force millennials to cut back on transportation expenses.  So could our restrictive local housing policies actually be creating a culture that demands more urban housing?  There’s some irony in that outcome, if that’s the case.

While we have to take a wait-and-see attitude, one finding is already clear to have long-lasting import: millennials simply don’t identify cars with status like previous generations.  Their whole attitude about driving seems markedly different, since they’ve never known cheap gas and only know traffic.

Policy makers should certainly take note of this cultural and generational shift — and design our urban spaces and transportation infrastructure accordingly.


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