On the day I turned 16, I was the first in line when the DMV opened, and the first to get my driver’s license that day. I was incredibly excited, so much so I drove over 100 miles to the state border, and then just turned around and came home. It was a matter of weeks before I scraped together enough money ($50, probably) to buy my first car, a Dodge Dart.
Now let’s flash forward a few decades, and my daughter has just turned 16. Driving? She’ll get around to it. She has her learner’s permit now, some three months after her birthday, but she often has other priorities when it comes to the driving lessons. She wants to do it, but she’s, well, not all that into it.
And she’s not alone in Generation Y. According to Kiplinger.com, motorists 21 to 30 now account for 14 percent of miles traveled, which is down from 21 percent in 1995. Why? One prime reason is that they don’t put as much stock in actual physical visits — they’ve got other ways of getting in touch, most of them digital. When I’m around my two daughters, the ping of instant messages is constant.
According to Ad Age, between 1978 and 2008, the number of 16- and 17-year-olds with driver’s licenses dropped from 50 percent and 75 percent then to 31 percent and 49 percent two years ago.
A J.D. Power and Associates survey from last June concludes, “Millennials don’t talk about cars the way previous generations did. It used to be when you turned 16 you went down to the DMV and got your license, but young people care more about their cell phones than they do their cars.” They have less need to “physically congregate,” the survey said. What is this world coming to?
Young people under 30 are less likely to want to actually own a car — they like public transit and car-sharing services like Zipcar. There are 80 million Gen Ys, so this is a big market.
“This generation focuses its buying on computers, BlackBerrys, music and software,” said Bill Draves, president of Learning Resources Network. “They view commuting a few hours by car a huge productivity waste when they can work using PDAs while taking the bus and train.”
This trend is one reason General Motors has shown off cars that drive themselves at the Beijing exhibition. Former GM VP Lawrence Burns says he definitely sees autopilot cars in our future, and for this very reason — people want to text and drive. If they can do it without getting arrested, that’s great. And the romance of driving that has captivated young America for more than a century? Gone with the wind, folks.