Fewer driving licenses spell challenges and opportunity

Earning a driver’s license and the flattering photo that comes with it has often been thought of as a modern-day rite of passage, but today fewer youth and young adults are applying and receiving driving licenses. Studies in the U.S.[1], Australia[2], Japan[3], Norway and Sweden[4] all show the same statistic: a steady decline in young drivers.

Cars have been replaced as today’s status symbol

A study in the U.S. reported that in the past twenty years, the percentage of 19 year-olds with a driving license declined almost twenty percentage points. Several reasons are given for this decline in the number of driving licenses including new technology and social media as well as economic and demographic concerns. Some researchers posit that youth have replaced face-to-face meetings, requiring travel, with social media. But a more salient reason is the replacement of automobiles with laptops, cell phones, and tablets as status symbols. Often young adults prioritize a new laptop or cell phone purchase over the purchase of a car.[5] Furthermore, cities like Sydney, San Francisco, and New York have seen significant growth in the cities proper where public transportation is often convenient and cost-efficient. And at the same time, many young adults cite the cost of an automobile as well as its necessary expenses – insurance, maintenance, parking – as impediments to getting a driver’s license.

Effect of fewer driving licenses on mobility

Fewer driving licenses have two differing impacts on mobility – one is in the car market and the other is in public transportation. Car manufacturers see this downward trend as a threat to their business; when demand for driving licenses decreases so, too, does the demand for cars. The situation is currently not dire, because young people seldom buy new cars anyway, but young people get older and often the tastes and brand loyalties one acquires at a young age influences future decisions. Therefore, several automobile manufacturers including General Motors and Toyota are creating car models designed to target young car buyers. Because young adults are often perceived as eco-friendly, Toyota’s Scion and GM’s Chevrolet Tru and Chevy Code were designed for eco-conscious buyers. But many such cars still do not interest buyers under 35. What is a hindrance for automakers is a potential boon for public mass transportation systems.During the same time as the number of driving licenses declined among young people, public transportation ridership among the youth increased. But ridership among all age groups has stayed flat. The challenge for public transportation systems will be to keep subways, regional trains, and busses appealing to these young riders as they age. In order to accomplish such a feat, policy makers and developers will have to present public transportation as an emancipating mode of transportation allowing more freedom and flexibility than the car and the driver’s license.

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