I could have saved Zipcar some money on its new survey. To gauge the interest of millennials in driving, the company invested in a fancy poll when it could have just talked to my driving-age daughter. She’d have made it official: Kids these days are more interested in posting to Facebook and texting than in taking those pesky driving lessons.

But Zipcar did commission a poll, and it finds that half of all 18- to 34 year-olds are spending less time behind the wheel. But they go further than that — they say they’d spend even less time driving if they had alternative ways of getting around. Like Zipcar, America’s biggest car-sharing service, for instance? Here's the poll as a slide show:

Zipcar Millennials Survey

Of course, polls like this are somewhat self-serving, but they still contain interesting information. Among 25- to 34 year-olds, an incredible 67 percent say they’d like to drive less. The biggest reason, they say in the survey, is the high cost of owning a car. People (and probably not just millennials) have realized there’s more to car ownership than just filling the gas tank. There’s maintenance, insurance, depreciation, parking, tolls and more.

The average car sits more than 90 percent of the time, which is where the idea of vehicle to grid (V2G) comes from — why not turn hybrid cars into energy sources? But all that time sitting around is time drivers pay for. “Millennials recognize the limited value of paying so much for something they use so little,” said Scott Griffith, Zipcar’s CEO. “They want the freedom to drive, but reject the financial burden of car ownership.”

I'll buy that. When I was 16, I got a license on the first day I could, and immediately bought a $50 car to exercise my “Born to be Wild” genes. Kids my daughter’s age and older will drive if you give them the car and the keys. They’re not committed to personal mobility, and absent a car they’ll just keep in touch with social media. According to the survey, 54 percent of the 1,025 18-and-overs (966 of them drivers) surveyed said they’d rather spend time online with friends, communicating with social media, than driving to visit them. Only 18 percent of people over 55 say that.

This is the part of the lesson that Zipcar probably doesn’t like so much — the kids don’t seem to want to drive at all, even with a shared car. Environmental factors are a big part of the thinking for people under 35. Some 45 percent say that they’re driving less “to protect the environment” compared to 37 percent of people between 45 and 54.

I asked Griffith what the poll means for Zipcar, and he came back with: "Nearly two-thirds of Millennials would drive less if alternative transportation options were available, and that's what we provide with Zipcar.  Simply put, Millennials are driving less because they think car ownership is expensive and environmentally undesirable. What is fascinating is that Millennials actually prefer navigating more and more of their social lives over the information superhighway versus the paved variety."

Dig this, from Department of Transportation records: As Ad Age points out, in 1978 three quarters of 17 year-olds had licenses (and nearly half of 16-year-olds). But by 2008, that percentage had dropped to 49 percent (17-year-olds) and 31 percent (16-year-olds). Further, the share of auto miles traveled by drivers 21 to 30 fell to 13.7 percent in 2009, from 20.8 percent in 1995, reports the Federal Highway Administration’s National Household Travel Survey.

Mike Cooperman of J.D. Power and Associates told me that its own polling comes to similar conclusions. “The most interesting conclusion we came to is that millennials don’t talk about cars the way previous generations did. It used to be that when you turned 16, you went down to the DMV and got your license, but young people care more about their cell phones then they do their cars.” That supports the idea that kids and young adults are simply driving less, not just shifting their ownership patterns.

But Zipcar is convinced that the survey means big growth for car sharing in the near future. Griffith says the study confirms its new economic model of “Collaborative Consumption.” In other words, access without ownership. And the company is probably onto something there.

Related on MNN: Zipcar's low-car diet is popular

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