Study: young people drive less, use alternative transportation more

Biking is more than a past-time for one Lincoln resident. Cole Marolf chooses a bike as his way of transportation to get around Lincoln.

“I have never had a driver’s license,” said Rose Lombard, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln anthropology student.

The 22-year-old has been behind the wheel since her junior year of high school, but she has never driven alone. She is on her fifth learner’s permit.

“By now I’ve been learning to drive for at least six years,” she said. Lombard said she hasn’t obtained her license because both she and her parents, who coach her with driving, have busy schedules. She also doesn’t feel the need.

“It isn’t a priority,” she said.

Lombard is not alone.

The report, “Transportation and the New Generation,” shows that young people are driving less and using alternative transportation more. “Transportation and the New Generation” analyzed several national transportation studies to develop its findings. The report, which was released in the spring by the U.S. Public Interest Research GroupEducation Fund and the Frontier Group, concluded that this trend should affect future transportation policy and investments.

Among the report’s findings:
* The average American was driving 6 percent fewer miles per year in 2011 than in 2004.
* Young people, ages 16 to 34, drove an average annual of 10,300 miles in 2001, compared to 7,900 miles per capita in 2009 – a 23 percent drop.

“It is a big deal,” said Tony Dutzik, co-author of the report and a senior policy analyst for Frontier group.

Dutzik said people have been driving more and more, and now there is a shift. From World War II until just a few years ago, the number of miles driven annually on America’s roads had increased steadily. But at the turn of the century, something changed, Dutzik said. Young people started driving less. Young people are still driving, but the shift in the opposite direction is something that hasn’t been seen before, he said.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, from 2000 to 2010, the share of 14- to 34-year-olds without driver’s licenses increased from 21 percent to 26 percent.

Younger Americans are leading the way away from driving and toward alternate means of transportation. Young adults are cycling, walking and riding more. The trend toward reduced driving among young people is likely tocontinue as a result of technological changes and increased legal and financial obstacles, according to the report.

Nebraska is seeing the same trend among young drivers.

“It does appear across the spectrum, there has been a steady decrease in people getting their licenses,” said Beverly Neth, the director of Nebraska’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

According to the annual reports, Nebraska has experienced a similar result with fewer young adults taking to the road at age 16, Neth said. From 2007-2011, the number of licensed 16-year-olds fell by 2,416, according to the Nebraska DMV annual reports.

“Economics plays a big part of it,” Neth said. Driving a car requires costly items, such as fuel, insurance, taxes and maintenance, she said.

“I suspect the big thing is cost.”

For Andrew Peterson cost was exactly the problem.

Peterson, an 18-year-old incoming senior at Lincoln Southeast, said he didn’t receive his driver’s license when he was 16, unlike his twin brother. Peterson said he and his twin brother got their permits at the same time, but Andrew’s brother finished his 50 hours of driving training faster.

“My mom advised me to not get my license,” he said.

Putting two teenagers on the road at the same time was costly, he said. He opted to have his brother and his family drive him around, he said.

“I was OK with it for a while,” Peterson said. “But I begin to feel embarrassed that I couldn’t even transport myself places.”

He said he wants to take the test and become a member of the club.

For many young people driving is a rite of passage, but for some people they have no desire to have that define them.

Damien Croghan is someone who has no intentions of ever getting behind the wheel. Croghan, a senior international studies and journalism major, said he was at one time, like every other teen: one of those people who wanted a car at 16 and was excited about it.

Due to another financial obligation, he was able to travel abroad at the cost of a new car.

“Essentially it started out by me sacrificing by going to Europe when I was 16. Since then, not having a car has been more a financial problem,” he said.

Croghan has been living at UNL ever since he started in 2008. He said not having a vehicle hasn’t been that big of an issue since he lives on campus. Everything that he needs is within walking distance, he said.

Croghan said he is paying his way through college and for him to have a car “it is just not economically feasible.” He said after paying for a cellphone bill, food, a car, car insurance and a $400 parking permit, it is just not possible.

“It is something that I have learned to work around,” he said. “Most people are shocked because they expect it to be so difficult.” He said it is been easy for him, especially living on a college campus.

Croghan said he hopes to one day live in a city with no less than 2 million people. Big cities are making it easier for people to find other ways of getting around. So in large cities like this, public transportation is a must and most people use it.

“I don’t enjoy driving and not comfortable with it,” he said. “I don’t like the idea that if I make a mistake, I could potentially be ruining my life and someone else’s as well.”

Croghan said he thinks that it will become harder for people to drive as well as own a vehicle because of the country’s economic recession.

“Hopefully this will push for a larger public transportation system in cities like the size of Omaha,” he said.

If more people choose other ways, this will be good for the environment and good for people’s budgets, he said.

Philip Schwadel, a UNL sociology professor, said he is not surprised that younger people are driving less.

“It has become less of a key point in young people’s lives,” he said. This younger generation has a different perspective about driving. He said people aren’t driving for the fun of it anymore.

“It has become less of a status symbol,” he said.

For Rose Lombard, she is content with walking around Lincoln or planning her day around the bus schedules.

“I just don’t want a car,” she said. “I can’t afford it.”