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Since the recession, vehicle use in America has continued to fall despite the fact that the economy is recovering and the population is growing which has led researchers to question whether the nation’s love for cars is finally waning?
The collective miles people drive in America reached its peak in 2007 and has since continued to drop sharply with the Federal Administration reporting vehicle miles travelled during the first half of 2013 remain slightly down.
Furthermore, the average number of miles drivers individually attain reached its peak in July 2004 at slightly more than 900 per month according to a study by Transportation Department economists, and in July last year this number had dropped by 9 per cent to 820 miles per month, which is around the same level as in the late 1990s.
At the same time, the amount of people in their teens, 20s and 30s with driver’s licences has also been dropping significantly which suggests that obtaining a driving licence does not have the same appeal it once had.
The reasons behind the decline in driving are currently divided. Some researchers site that the changes are almost entirely linked to the economy and believe that within a few years when the economy starts to recover, the driving figures will bounce back, whereas some researchers acknowledge that there could be long-term structural changes in the economy which could prevent the levels of driving growth we have seen in the past – or maybe it’s just too soon to speculate.
Other researchers agree that economic factors are important but say that the decline in driving is also a reflection of the fundamental changes in the way Americans view the car. For example, for commuters the idea of getting stuck in a car in traffic has less and less appeal along with the cost of owning a car in central cities and the difficulty to park it.
“The idea that the car means freedom, I think, is over,” said travel behavior analyst Nancy McGuckin.
“The car as a fetish of masculinity is probably over for certain age groups,” McGuckin said. “I don’t think young men care as much about the car they drive as they use to.”
The decline in driving could also be a result of the changes in people’s lifestyles. More people are now shopping online, taking public transport and biking and walking to work.
The growth of social media has also been cited as a possible reason for the decline in teens and young adults with driver’s licences in the U.S. with a study by the University of Michigan finding that a decline in driving was mirrored in other wealthy countries with a high proportion of Internet users.
Economists are also saying that many Americans, especially those in their teens and young adults, simply cannot afford to buy a car considering the average price for a new car is currently $31,000.
It is certainly plausible that the UK could soon follow suit. Already, we are seeing a lot of the decline in driving trends outlined above applying to British motorists, and the choice to abandon your car for other means of transport comes with many advantages. Most importantly, there is less pollution, less dependence on foreign oil and reduced greenhouse-gas emissions. Not to mention less traffic congestion and most importantly, fewer fatalities and injuries on the roads.
Could the UK face a decline in its driving culture in the future? Have your say below.