Home / General / The decline in driving among young American adults

The decline in driving among young American adults


When considering what to say to a law school applicant looking at various schools at various price points, I was surprised to learn that he has never learned to drive.  (This came up because he currently envisions himself working for a small firm in a rural part of an east coast state, which could be difficult even without having to rely on the basically non-existent mass transit options in such environs.)

He’s about to graduate from college, which led me to wonder how common it is for Americans at various ages to be non-drivers.  The best proxy for this — not a perfect one of course — is whether people have driver’s licenses.  If you had asked me to guess I would have said that something like 95% of people in their early 20s are licensed to drive. And in fact this would have been a tolerably close estimate when I was that age: in 1983, 91.8% of 20-24 year olds were licensed.

Yet it turns out that today, nearly one in every four 20-24 year olds (23.3%) doesn’t have a driver’s license. The decline since 1983 among 25-39 year olds is also striking, with the percentage declining from 95.6 to 85.1 in the 25-29 cohort, from 96.5 to 86.6 among 30 to 34 year olds, and 94.9 to 87.9 in the 35-39 age range.  (All latter figures are for 2014).

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s been a huge increase in geriatric drivers.  In 1983, only 55% of Americans 70 or older had a driver’s license (I find that number shockingly low. I would guess it reflects far lower percentages of car ownership per household in the mid-20th century, with one consequence being that many households never acquired more than one driver at most.  I also wonder what the gender breakdown looks like in this regard).  In 2014 that figure had risen to 79%.  When one considers that the number of old people in the US has nearly doubled over the past 35 years, we may soon be facing a crisis of perpetual left turn signaling.

As for why young people are so much less likely to be drivers than 30 years ago, is this a product of increasing urbanization?  The declining economic status of millennials relative to their boomer parents?  All that crazy “rap” music?

Relatedly, what do people who don’t have driver’s licenses do for identification purposes?  What card do they produce when they’re carded?  How do they vote?  If they look like they might be Mexican, how do they prove their legal residence for the purpose of being able to frequent fine dining establishments?

Anyway, there’s something happening here, though what it is ain’t exactly clear (that’s what the comments section is for naturally).

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  • MissDiketon

    I haven’t had a license for many years and even when I did have it, I didn’t own a car. My only reason is I hate driving.

    As for ID, I’m pretty sure you can go to any DMV and get a non-driver state ID (like I did in PA).

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      If you want to be able to get on an airplane, you’d better forget about that ID and get a passport. PA is not a “Real ID” state (and good on them for resisting the tyranny); they might get another extension, but don’t count on it.

      Besides which, in the Age of Trump, having a passport is a really good idea

      • dsidhe

        Washington State issues an ID card which looks like a driver’s license. But yes, you’d need a passport now for boarding planes and crossing into and out of Canada. There’s an enhanced ID that may work for the border for a while yet.

        I don’t drive, mostly because I get sudden migraines and I am not interested in being in control of a large machine capable of causing death to others when they happen. Funny story, the reason I get sudden migraines is because some other idiot, about twenty years ago, was nominally in control of a large piece of machinery when I was walking across a crosswalk, with a light, and decided to, while chatting with a passenger in the back seat, accelerate from his stop and hit me. Concussion, fractured tibia, twenty years of migraines, here we come.

        As a non-driver, I get loads of condescension and scorn and bafflement from people who assume driving is the default state. And not driving makes my life difficult, I will grant you that. But speaking as a pedestrian who has been hit three times by cars over forty years, at least a third of drivers shouldn’t be. They don’t pay attention, they drive while tired, they drive while on the cell and now while hiding their cell. It’s not just the elderly, either, I know a guy with narcolepsy who drives, and someone with epilepsy who drives. That’s insane.

        If you cannot be positively certain when you get behind the wheel of a car that you can control it for the entire time you’re there, you have no business driving.

        • delazeur

          If you cannot be positively certain when you get behind the wheel of a car that you can control it for the entire time you’re there, you have no business driving.

          As a fellow pedestrian, I strongly agree. A significant percentage of drivers really should not be allowed to drive (the fact that some of them might not have much of a choice notwithstanding).

          • guthrie

            Here in the UK there are definitely a lot of old people that shouldn’t be driving, and sometimes someone crashes their lorry and turns out to have ignored a doctors warning about not driving due to health conditions. I’ve actually noticed I’ve had far more difficulty with elderly drivers and BMW/ Audi drivers over the last 5 or 6 years than with boy racers (I.e. 18/19 year olds with small cheap cars, often slightly souped up), whereas it used to be more equal.

        • Dennis Orphen

          Absolutely! When my migrane subsides (calorie/caffeine/water issues) I’ll go off on some of the points you made in detail. Most people should not be operating motor vehicles on public right of ways. Just step out of your car, plant yourself like a bird watcher/naturalist and watch.

          • Rob in CT

            A couple of years ago now I committed to taking walks in the park after lunch at work. I’ve seen plenty, without really looking for it.

        • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

          I find it horrifying that I know several people who upon realizing that a family member was a particularly poor driver, had the driver buy the largest possible private passenger vehicle so they’d come out better than the people in the other vehicle they hit in their inevitable accidents.

          At one place I worked, nearly all the parents assumed their kids would total their first two or three cars, and bought them what they openly referred to as “crashmobiles”.

      • MissDiketon

        Heh. I definitely need to get my passport renewed! I just keep forgetting!

    • N__B

      I have a NYS non-driver’s ID. They used to say “Driver’s License” at the top and “Non-driver” under restrictions, but now they say “Identification” at the top.

      • N__B

        Also, to quote Pop__B, who never drove, why do I need a car? I already have enough instruments of aggression in my life.

      • ADD

        Same, I alternate between MA non drivers-license ID and Passport.
        Live and work downtown, never drove

    • CrunchyFrog

      As for ID, I’m pretty sure you can go to any DMV and get a non-driver state ID (like I did in PA).

      Actually this brings up an important part of GOP vote suppression tactics. In GOP states it is common for the non-driver ID to be much more difficult to get than a driver ID. Fewer locations, lines up to 6 hours long, and even a fee until it is challenged in court. They know non-drivers are less likely to vote GOP.

      • Dennis Orphen

        I’ll go off on that in detail too, as soon as I wake up and smell the Kafka, er, I mean coffee.

  • Snarki, child of Loki

    Think that’s bad?

    They stopped teaching cursive handwriting in grade school!

    • N__B
    • jim, some guy in iowa

      o jesus- about a year and a half ago a guy I know through the local democrats, retired state highway employee, was going *on and on* about kids not learning cursive. The last time I heard from him, last fall, he was ranting about not being able to vote for Clinton (this after he’d volunteered for her in ’08) because she’d take away his guns. I hope to not see him for a long long time

      • BiloSagdiyev

        Back in the 80’s in college I marvelled at all of the periodicals I could paw at in the college library, so many arcane topics. I found one trade publication, not very thick, I know it wasn’t all about twist ties for bread bags but it did have ads for them inside it. Some kind of industrial packaing periodical. Whoever was publishing it also jammed it with about 30% reactionary horseshit content.

        I vividly remember one full page being devoted to a screed about how the Kids Today weren’t being taught cursive with the right method.

        I think the lesson here is clear – we need to lead a revolution of DVORAK keyboards, away from QWERTY, if only to piss off cranky old fks.

        • Hogan

          Palmer Method or Spencerian?

          • BiloSagdiyev

            I do not remember. I vaguely remember “Palmer”, but I didn’t form much of a memory on that detail, just the bigger point of fist-shaking outrage about the collapse of society based on… instructional technique of cursive.

        • Bitter Scribe

          OK, that seems weird. I started working for a trade publication about, yes, industrial packaging in 1992, and I don’t recall either it or any of our competitors having any reactionary horseshit content. In my experience, trade pubs in general try to stay away from anything political except for laws and regs that directly affect their industry. No sense pissing people off gratuitously.

          The only remotely reactionary thing I saw was when my boss had me go through a bunch of back issues from the ’80s, looking for stuff that could be followed up on. I came across an ad featuring a smiling woman in a bikini standing, for no apparent reason, next to a bagging machine. (I later found out that the salesperson who worked with that company was appalled by the ad but went along with it.)

          • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

            Model railroading is a hobby of mine, and as you may know, is even today almost exclusively male.

            The magazine ads back in the 1950s and early 60s are remarkably awash in sexism, gratuitous sexuality, and racism. It’s really jarring and I grew up back then, though I wasn’t reading the magazines back then.

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        “was going *on and on* about kids not learning cursive”

        It’s not on the mandated tests, and there’s no time to do anything but “teach to the test”, so what did all those crusty old geezers expect?

        Sheesh, I don’t think much of the trend to drop cursive, but if they want to look for someone to blame, those conservatives should just look in a mirror.

        • Thom

          Right, “cursive” is suspiciously close to art, or at least craft.

      • JMP

        No cursive?!? Why, they’ve probably stopped teaching how to use manual typewriters and rotary phones as well!

        • Richard Hershberger

          In related news, the kids nowadays are terrible at Elizabethan secretarial hand, and the state of their Carolingian minuscule is simply shocking!

    • rcshowman

      Some states have been re-introducing cursive back into their standards, like Virginia. When a state chooses to adopt Common Core, they are allowed to change/add 15% of the standards; FL, among other states, took the opportunity to restore cursive. I’m really surprised TX, of all states, didn’t include cursive in their latest revision of the ELA standards.

      There is some science backing up the value of cursive–helps with dyslexia, develops writing automaticity (this is hugely important for struggling writers), and the like. Research is scant, thus far. Nonetheless, for intervention purposes in particular, I’d highly recommend explicit instruction and practice with cursive.

      • Perhaps it also teaches the fine skill of thinking about what you are writing…

    • Bronze

      I refused to learn cursive in grade school because I was angry at the time for little kid reasons, so I could never write cursive and didn’t really know how to make a non-print signature. When I was a year and a half into college I was annoyed because even though typed most of my papers, my profs couldn’t read my handwriting in print. So taught myself cursive because I figured that would improve my regular handwriting as well as allowing me to use an art everyone else was forgetting. Now my profs say that my handwriting is very pretty, but they can’t read it, and that I should please use print.

    • wengler

      I remember in elementary school they forced us to use cursive from 3rd to 5th grade. I hate cursive.

      • Redwood Rhiadra

        As a left-hander, I too hate cursive. It’s just about impossible to use cursive – at least school-approved methods – as a left-hander without getting points knocked off for smudging and also twisting your hand into truly awkward and painful positions.

        (As an adult, I learned you could do cursive by turning the paper 90 degrees clockwise and transposing all the hand movements. But by then I didn’t care.)

        • Cursive is dumb and people who complain about the KIDZ NOT LEARNING CURSIVE THESE DAYS!!! are the worst

          • malraux

            Dammit, I agree with Loomis on something.

      • Colin Day

        I had to write Russian in cursive.

        • BiloSagdiyev

          In the snow up to your hips both ways?

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      My spouse had a kid come up to her in church and ask her to translate the teacher’s cursive writing because the kid could only read printing.

  • NewishLawyer

    I am surprised by this as well. Even in cities, there are very few in the United States that I would consider friendly or good for non-car drivers and that would require sticking in the city limits. I could see being car free if I was able to live and stick in the city limits of NYC, Boston, Philadelphia, DC, Portland, and maybe SF. And here I am probably being overly optimistic.

    Even SF is hard without a car because you can get to many cities by BART but then getting around those cities is hard unless you are sticking to a core downtown area.

    Still, I’d guess increased urbanization contributes the most to 20-24 year olds not driving.

    That being said, there is a decent amount of evidence that a good chunk of millennials are not getting the cities are where it is at meme too. 75 percent with driver’s licenses is still a lot more than many other countries.

    • CP

      I managed to make it for three years in Miami without a car, which boggled many people’s minds. Then again, being a grad student drastically cuts down on your social life and general need to be anywhere other than school. And it’s not like I’ve ever been a social butterfly in the first place.

      • N__B

        I have relatives in Miami. One beautiful “winter” day in 1987, I walked from their family business (located at 1st Street NE) up Biscayne Boulevard, over the 79th Street Causeway, down the beach, and over the Venetian Causeway back to the office. There was no one on the beach because it was “cold.” (Maybe 65F.) My cousins were horrified about me being on foot in the mainland neighborhoods I had walked through. I explained to them that, since anyone who wanted to rob me would have had to stop their car, get out of their car, and proceed towards me on foot, I felt perfectly safe. I think in that entire 15-mile (or whatever it is) walk, I passed maybe a dozen pedestrians.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          my cousins have a photo taken in the mid-50s of about 8 or 10 men in overalls standing in front of a barn they were building- both my granddads, my great uncle, the rest neighbors. My uncle and I were looking at it and he said, “they probably all walked over” (they all lived within a mile or two). I can about guarantee you if that took place today there would be at least five 3/4 ton 4wd pickups in the yard

          • N__B

            That sounds like a cultural shift, whereas I wonder if my situation is simply a family peculiarly. When I was a kid and I didn’t know what to do on a weekend day, my father would say “Let’s walk out to the city line.” It was about 3-1/2 miles, maybe 4, along Northern Boulevard, a big street that’s semi-highway. We’d walk, talk a little bit. We’d get to the edge of Queens, look out on Long Island, say “Yup,” turn around, and walk home.

            A few times we stopped at the miniature golf place. Neither one of us had the slightest clue what we were doing.

            • jdkbrown

              That really sounds wonderful.

              • N__B

                It was. I doubt he had anything in mind other than us amusing ourselves for a few hours, but it made a bunch of indelible memories.

          • NewishLawyer

            In law school in SF, people would drive for distances that I considered really walkable. Like a 15-20 minute walk. It would take just as long to drive considering you needed to find parking.

            • Murc

              I’ve noticed that sometimes people from the ‘burbs have trouble adjusting to city driving times. In the suburbs a 15-minute drive can be the equivalent of a two or three hour walk. In the city, not so much. You gotta adjust your internal gauge.

            • Pat

              That’s an old joke in California, that you drive your car to go a couple of blocks.

            • Dennis Orphen

              I always say when I’m about to toodle somewhere on my 3-speed 20 blocks away, “Would you fly your Cessna to the next city over?”.

              Then I go back to reading Veblen.

          • LeeEsq

            When I first saw Spencer’s Mountain on TCM, I was surprised on how many people seemed to get around by walking in rural Wyoming.

        • CP

          It’s definitely a bicyclist’s utopia in some ways: there are yoooge (and sometimes even classy) parts of the city where you can ride on the sidewalk and have no concern at all about avoiding pedestrians, because they don’t exist, especially in residential areas inland where I was at.

          And it’s flat. So flat. It’s the anti-San-Francisco.

          • N__B

            I’d be worried about running my bike over one of those little sidewalk lizards. Cute little guys.

            • CP

              I’ve actually done that, and then felt terrible for the rest of the day.

              Though not as terrible as the later time that I hit a chipmunk (different city).

        • Michael Masinter

          I have lived in Miami for many years. I invite you to come back to take that walk between mid May and mid October when the dewpoint is 75 degrees, the daytime high is roughly 90, and the nighttime low is only 80. We have two seasons here — the rainy season and the dry season. Long dry season walks are lovely; you can observe the painted buntings that winter here, and all the other migratory birds passing through. But the rainy season is very different; even if you’re willing to risk the lightning strikes that punctuate the rainy season, you’ll need a shower and a complete change of clothes at the end of a walk that is longer than a quarter mile. I love to run in the summer heat, but I pick my times to miss the lightning, and there’s always a pool and a shower waiting.

          • N__B

            I’m quite familiar with Miami’s humid/mosquito season. I avoid it like the plague.

      • NewishLawyer

        I know someone who did a PhD in LA without a car. He is an extreme cyclist though.

    • medrawt

      I’ve made it 16 years in Chicago without a car (I do have a driver’s license, but frankly drive infrequently enough that I’d want to take refresher lessons before I felt really comfortable behind the wheel). If your home and most of your life is pretty centrally located in the city, it’s quite feasible. Public transportation coverage is good, and of course a willingness to walk a fair amount helps a lot. Now, if for some reason I moved back to the Hyde Park neighborhood, where I was in college, I wouldn’t want to be without a car this time. But for right now it’s no big deal except the five or ten days a year when I want to move something large or awkward.

      • NewishLawyer

        Chicago is another city where being carless seems like a possibility as long as you could stay in the city limits or maybe just stay in Cook County.

        • gmoot

          Yes, but doesn’t Chicago have so many deaths involving cars and pedestrians/bicyclists/etc that the city feels obligated to put up signs that say, “don’t hit the pedestrians” and “obey your signal”?

          • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

            When I lived in Chicago, whenever possible I crossed against the light, because you could generally see the vehicles coming at you. Crossing with the light, you had to worry about someone hitting you from behind as they made their right turn.

      • wjts

        I lived in Hyde Park for eight years without a car (I didn’t get my license until a month or two before I left). When I worked for various theater companies on the North Side, the commute could be pretty long. Most of the time, though, I was a student at the U of C, working for the U of C, or working downtown, so it wasn’t too bad.

      • I work about 2 miles from where I live and drive a Miata. People have asked why I don’t just walk to work. If the weather is shitty out, I’d rather drive. And if the weather is nice out, I’d rather just put the top down and cruise.

        I have used public transportation quite a lot, and one thing I have learned is that when you rely on public transportation, then transportation becomes a bigger part of your day. You want to get across town, you’re gonna wait for the bus first. If you have to make a transfer, you better hope that Bus A gets there before Bus B, or your going to be waiting awhile again. Not saying its not nice to get on the bus and not have to deal with traffic. But it does take up more of your day, in my experience.

        And there’s nothing worse than walking to the bus stop and seeing the bus cruise by when you’re about a minute away!

      • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

        I lived in Chicago for over 20 years and didn’t have a car most of the time. The exceptions were when I had jobs that required a car.

        Most of the neighborhoods I lived in only had street parking, and most spaces were taken up by abandoned cars. So parking two or more blocks away was common, and no further than the walk to the nearest bus or L stop. The car was more convenient than waiting for buses during evenings and weekends, especially, but the downside was that driving was extremely frustrating, so it was at best a break-even situation for me.

    • nixnutz

      I think that might be a sign of how much S.F. has changed since I lived there. I went to Berkeley a few times a year to go record shopping but otherwise I had no reason to go to other cities, I didn’t know anybody who lived outside the city. I lived near a BART stop so my commute was 10 minutes but I could get anywhere in the city in 30 minutes by bicycle anyway. Sure, I missed out on day trips to Half Moon Bay and the like, and never got to go to Gilman St., but it’s not like Boston where a high proportion of employers are in office parks in the outer suburbs. But now all my friends are scattered across the east bay and I imagine there’s stuff happening out there too, so it would seem more important.

      • Dennis Orphen

        The exact same thing starting happening in Portland recently. Used to be, everyone I knew was in the ‘zone’ roughly bordered by NW 23rd on the west, 39th Ave on the east, Fremont or Prescott on the north and Powell (maybe Gladstone, with a finger going into the Morelands/Sellwood) to the south. Now almost everyone I know is outside those limits, except my more well-off friends.

        I can really relate to Jack Donaghy’s “I haven’t gone north of such and such for 10 years”, which I can’t find easily today. Can anyone help?

        Bonus Joke:

        What’s the most politically incorrect intersection in Portland?

        The corner of 39th Ave and Portland Blvd.!

  • CP

    As for why young people are so much less likely to be drivers than 30 years ago, is this a product of increasing urbanization? The declining economic status of millennials relative to their boomer parents?

    Speaking for myself, yes and yes. I don’t know if I’d say that it’s increasing urbanization, but the fact of living in a big city means that I’ve always had the option of not driving, even if the other options are sometimes a little bit less convenient. (But not by much. Sure, part of me wishes I could just hop in a car and drive to the metro and/or to work instead of walking half an hour to the metro, but then I’d have to find and pay for parking. Is that really more convenient?)

    Ultimately, I don’t want to pay for the insurance, and the gas, and the parking, and can’t really afford to – even if a relative actually decided to gift me one of their cars, which one or two of them have offered to do. If I can finally land a decent job at middle-class-wages, I still might not get a car – not when car rental services are available for the times when I really need it.

    • science_goy

      After I sold my last car — not a fancy one, but a decent late-model hatchback that I originally bought used — I calculated that the damn thing cost me something like $2500 per year in depreciation, insurance, and registration alone (i.e. before I put a drop of gas in it). With an older car depreciation is less but maintenance is more, so that figure doesn’t necessarily go down a whole lot.

      My current apartment complex charges $200/month for a parking spot, so if I had a car here that would bump the previous figure to nearly $5k.

      Car ownership is expensive.

    • Pat

      Millennials are also in such communication with each other, they carpool more.

      Also, getting a driver’s license is far more involved for the parents than it used to be, at least in NY. Driver’s education is a separate class that costs ~$500 per kid. If you do it during the school year, it starts before school, so you’re dragging your teen to school before 6 am (and their grades will suffer disproportionately). Then you have 50 hours of driving practice before they can take the exam. If you work outside the home and/or have other kids, it’s really hard to squeeze in this time. Basically, your kid driving has to be a real priority for you.

      If the parents don’t drive, it’s virtually impossible, I think, for their kid to be able to afford to on their own. Insurance for someone under 21 is really expensive, less so if they’re on their parents’ insurance. Our kids will also have our AAA until they are 26. These are all benefits accrued to young people whose parents are middle-class or better.

  • zoomar

    My son is 30 and still doesn’t have a license. He has a NY state nondriver ID. Most states issue them. He uses public transportation and shares rides and gas with friends who have cars. They rent vehicles for moving and other activities when a car is necessary. Being an able bodied seaman, he’s on a ship much of the year, often transporting cars ironically enough. He intends to get his license this spring but has no intention of owning a car at all. Most of his friends feel the same way. I was somewhat disappointed not getting the chance to teach him how to drive and helping him get a car when he was late teens early 20s. He just never expressed an interest. It was all I could think about when I was that age. A car is just not the rite of passage for young men and women that it was a generation ago IMO.

    • FOARP

      Seems strange – are parents just not offering to teach their kids how to drive, or kids turning them down? When I was that age it was just the done thing for parents to offer to teach their kids to drive and I cannot see why anyone would turn that kind of offer down.

      Now, having a license and just not driving seems a lot more understandable.

      • delazeur

        My mother flat-out refused to teach me to drive. I think she just didn’t want the hassle.

      • NewishLawyer

        My parents did extra practice but Driver’s Ed is often done in school or through after school programs in the United States.

        I know in some countries you have to do official courses before you can get a Driver’s License. If anything, the U.S. is easy here, they largely don’t care who teaches you to drive.

        • wjts

          When I finally got my license at 26 in Illinois, I just had to show up at the DMV and take the tests. They didn’t require any sort of proof that I’d taken any sort of Driver’s Ed class.

          • Pat

            Driver’s education is only mandatory for people under 18.

          • steverinoCT

            You’d probably get better car insurance rates with an approved class under your belt.

    • I was somewhat disappointed not getting the chance to teach him how to drive and helping him get a car when he was late teens early 20s.

      I never gave my kids the choice. I taught them to drive and made sure they got their first driver’s license. Whatever they did after that was on them. Probably old fashioned, but it was a matter of self-reliance that my dad instilled in me :-)

  • Tom in BK

    My sister doesn’t drive because she failed her driving test twice when she was a kid, and has lived in NYC her entire adult life, so it’s not really necessary.

    I wonder how much of it is people losing their licenses due to DUIs. MADD was only started in 1980, and since then drunk driving has been taken a lot more seriously. I’ve had some, er, experience with various support groups, and I’ve met plenty of people who’ll have to wait a long while before they can drive again, if at all.

    • Brian Schmidt

      Agree with this comment. And maybe some people found that after losing their license it wasn’t that bad to live without driving.

      Haven’t seen anyone mention texting and laptop use starting 15-20 years ago, and then smart phones 10+ years ago, as ways to make public transit more inviting than driving. Maybe even Walkmans 25-30 years ago as a way to even out the music experience with driving a car?

      • MyNameIsZweig

        Maybe even Walkmans 25-30 years ago as a way to even out the music experience with driving a car?

        25 years ago is right around when I was getting ready to learn to drive, and I assure you, the fact that I owned a Walkman did not make taking the HARTline any more enticing. Of course, with 50-minute headways common and poor areal coverage in a low-density urbanized locale, nobody wanted to rely on the bus unless it was a last resort.

      • UserGoogol

        I mean if you go back to Walkmans you might as well go back further and bring up the development of transistor radios in the 1950s, and car culture was doing pretty well for itself back then. The development of portable music was probably too incremental for there to be any obvious turning points where you can say this technology made the difference.

        But certainly by the 21st century there have been quite a lot of things you can do occupy yourself on a train, and that’s certainly not a minus. But even the earliest days of public transportation had books.

  • ryan.denniston

    I have a passport for ID purposes. I live close to work, downtown, food, etc. I can afford to live in a more expensive area than I otherwise could precisely because I have no car to pay for.


    A combination of our old friends increased infrastructure and urbanisation, and lower levels of disposable income amongst younger people.

    Simply looking at licence-holding doesn’t tell the whole story either, since there is also a cohort of licence-holders who don’t own cars or who seldom drive.

    Looking at this report for the UK, my home country, there’s some interesting findings in there:

    – Mileage driven amongst men was highest for high earners, with low-earners coming a close second (see table 5.11). I guess this reflects driving as part of your work – you don’t see the same trend amongst women where there appears to be just a straight-line relationship between earnings and mileage.

    – If I read 5.13 correctly, having kids makes you much more likely to be a driver as a man. Being in social housing makes you much less likely to be a driver (as a licence holder) if you are a woman.

    – 6.1 lists why young licence holders don’t drive to work. Traffic was the biggest reason why not (not a surprise in a country as densely populated as the UK, doubt it holds true for the US though). Fuel costs comes second (nb. petrol costs ~£6 or $7.50 per gallon in the UK).

  • Nick never Nick

    This isn’t going to make any sense, but I don’t think the issue here is utilitarian — I would guess that in a very broad sense, youth culture is a lot less aggressive and competitive than it used to be. Growing up in the 1980s, you had a strong sense of there being ‘in’ groups, and corresponding outgroups. Not driving gave you a much higher chance of being in an outgroup. Things were much more sexist back then, obviously, and a lot of ingroup characteristics were defined by what boys might want; and driving a car was associated with freedom, independence, having sex. (I can’t really explain why I think this is so, certainly the fact that I didn’t drive and didn’t have sex could be the cause . . .)

    I think youth culture is much less masculine, today. It’s OK to be gay, to be effeminate, to do geeky things, to look weird. The ingroups still exist, but they aren’t ‘in’ so much, they’re just there. It seems natural that driving, once a large symbolic part of being ‘in’, has been reduced to just being something some people do, that can be kind of expensive and isn’t socially necessary.

    My impression that youth culture is less feral than it used to be isn’t reliable either, it’s based on random observations in Canada, who knows what Kansas is like these days.

    • AMK

      Getting my license and access to a car was still a huge deal in suburban blue state millennial high school (~10 years ago)–you were absolutely a loser if you didn’t have one.

      • Nick never Nick

        Since I’m at heart an anthropologist, no actual data will refute my theory

        • Thom

          … while the tiniest bit of evidence will allow you to refute the theories of others!

          • Nick never Nick

            You understand me like a brother!

            Though to be strictly fair, I require only the potential existence of data to refute those theories that oppose mine . . .

        • AMK

          Actually I think the big difference between then and now is Uber. It used to be that if you couldn’t drive yourself, you were totally reliant on parents or a constant freeloader on your driving friends to get anywhere. Uber solves that problem.

          • Thom

            Also, from casual observation, parents more willing to drive kids around. When I was in HS, late 60s-early 70s, my father told me to hitchhike (we lived in a very non-dense suburban area, no public transport to speak of). They were indulgent about letting me use their cars after I turned 16, though.

            • NewishLawyer

              Hitchhiking is certainly a no go now.

              • malraux

                Instead, get into a random car driven by someone you’ve contacted over the internet.

                • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

                  But like Trump, Uber employs only the best drivers, heavily vetted.

            • Dennis Orphen

              You’d also look like an idiot to your peers having your parents drive you anywhere, usually starting around the age of 5 or 6 when you knew how to ride a bike (escape!) and have been walking to school by yourself since the second day of kindergarten, even in the big cities.

          • NewishLawyer

            Certainly in SF (and probably other places) using Uber/Lyft to pick up and drop off your kids is a thing.
            IIRC they have a special program with forms and everything for it once the kid turns 10 or 11.

            • Dennis Orphen

              My dad just gave me a Yamaha YZ175 Enduro, completely unsolicited from me, and spent the change on a Corvette for himself. In fact, it worked out so well for both of us, he picked up a Kawaski KX125 for me too. I think he was also 11 dimensional chessing that fact that I would want to ride his Honda CBs someday (and if I had my own bikes instead….). Pop was pretty cool (still is). And of course, I learned some skills in self-reliance that I still apply to this day.

              And on top of that, I can walk or bike everywhere without any emotional grief as an adult, because I don’t have any issues with material goods (or the lack of) as an adult. Nice things are nice, but being a nice person is the most important thing of all, stuff is just stuff.

    • delazeur

      I think youth culture is much less masculine, today. It’s OK to be gay, to be effeminate, to do geeky things, to look weird. The ingroups still exist, but they aren’t ‘in’ so much, they’re just there. It seems natural that driving, once a large symbolic part of being ‘in’, has been reduced to just being something some people do, that can be kind of expensive and isn’t socially necessary.

      That pretty much reflects the experience I had in an affluent Seattle suburb.

      • Srsly Dad Y

        My high-school-age daughter and her friends in DC are just like that, but then, it’s DC. Her one good friend who drives a lot is (1) an older sibling (2) with a single parent (3) who lives in a non-transit-served part of DC.

        • bondgirl

          This holds true for my kids as well. My 17-year-old son has his learner’s permit but can’t be arsed to take the road test. He bikes most places (year-round! in Minneapolis!) and his indulgent dad is willing to drive him to the places he can’t easily reach by bike. He has a valid passport for ID purposes. So far it hasn’t been an issue. Many of his friends have similar stories, and it’s just not a big deal for them.

    • NewishLawyer

      I didn’t get my license until after my freshman year of college. Even in 1997-1998, it was a sign of dorkiness to take the bus during your senior year of high school. Driving was the thing to do when you were a senior because you were allowed to leave campus during your free periods as well. In my high school, juniors and seniors had free periods instead of study hall. Seniors could drive to school.

      So if you had first period free, you could sleep in. If you had last period free, you could leave early.

      My school was located near nothing so a car was necessary.

    • This isn’t going to make any sense, but I don’t think the issue here is utilitarian — I would guess that in a very broad sense, youth culture is a lot less aggressive and competitive than it used to be.

      I would say that current youth culture is less concerned about being dependent on others than it used to be. I took the driver’s test as soon as I turned 16 (and did it with a broken collarbone) just so I wouldn’t have to rely on my parents to cart me around all the time. As soon as I got my licence, my dad bought me an old beater Chevy Vega so he wouldn’t have to cart me around all the time. His expectation was that I would go out in the world and make my own way, and getting a driver’s license was a part of preparing me for that :-)

    • fd2

      driving a car was associated with freedom, independence, having sex. (I can?t really explain why I think this is so, certainly the fact that I didn?t drive and didn?t have sex could be the cause . . .)

      Driving a car was associated with having sex in the 80’s (for young people) because it was something you could have sex in that wasn’t your parents’ house.

      • Dennis Orphen

        From a Darwinian standpoint we will become unable to not drive a species because of selection pressure.

        Or, so I have theorized based upon personal experiences.

  • thicket creeper

    Many fewer women drove two generations ago, a reason why the overall percentage was low for oldsters in 1983. Neither of my grandmothers ever had a license.

  • delazeur

    I am 23 and just got my first driver’s license a couple of weeks ago.

    I have lived in the Seattle area for the entire time that I have been of legal driving age, so I have had access to decent public transit. I also walk a lot of places — I consider anything up to about 3 miles to be within walking distance, and I usually prefer walking over public transit. When I started college I had to get a WA state ID card in order to get my student body card, and I subsequently used my state ID card to board airplanes (I didn’t need ID for that before I turned 18) and to purchase alcohol after I turned 21 (it looks very similar to a driver’s license). I have never had a passport, but I could have used one for all of those purposes.

    I didn’t get a license as a teenager because it was stupid expensive and my family didn’t have the money for it given that it wasn’t absolutely necessary. Driver’s ed classes plus gas for practicing plus extra insurance on the car could easily have been in the $3-4,000 range. (If you’re a minor in WA you have to take a multi-month driver’s ed class and log an additional 50 hours of practice.) The requirements were not very strict for me to get a license as an adult: I took a written test to get a permit, took about 10 hours of lessons from a driving school, then took the test. All told, it set me back about $600.

    My motivation for finally getting my license was that I want to be able to go hiking more often this summer and I want to be able to visit family in rural Montana. I still don’t have a car (I’ve calculated that it will cost me at least $5,000/yr more than using transit), but I’m thinking about getting one later this year.

    • delazeur

      Also, perhaps I should touch on the social aspect of having a car as a teenager. Most of my friends had cars, and it was certainly a status symbol. However, I didn’t feel very judged — some people thought it was odd that I didn’t drive, but it wasn’t a huge deal. My friends were always happy to give me rides when I needed them, and as a straight guy I found that getting rides from girls meshed pretty well with the general flirting that was going on at that age.

    • science_goy

      Zipcar, Enterprise Carshare, and Turo are good options if you live in a large city with any of these within walking distance. While they can seem expensive on an hourly or daily basis, you can buy a lot of rental days for less than $5,000. That’s what I do, anyway.

      • delazeur

        Definitely. Last time I did the math on that, you could get a Zipcar for something like 2 to 5 full days a month before owning starts to look competitive on price. Full days reflect things like hiking trips; if I was only using it for a few hours at a time — e.g. going to box stores in the suburbs — owning would almost never be competitive.

        • Mellano

          For hiking (well, camping), it might be cheaper to go on a travel search site and get the best available deal on an economy rental. I used to have Zipcar when living in a good transit city, but always wound up using Budget, etc, when I needed something for an overnight trip or longer.

          • erick

            Yeah, zip car, car2go, etc are great deals when you need a local car for a short term, one trip, a few hours, etc. They found a niche traditional rental car companies didn’t offer. For a day or more best deal is likely going to be the traditional ones, just search travel sites for the best deal.

          • delazeur

            I pay a higher rate for rental cars because of my age, so it ends up being about the same as Zipcar.

            • erick

              Ah, so now they charge more when your under 25. When I was young several of the companies simply wouldn’t rent to you if you were under 25. I went on my first business trip a few months after I started working after college and got to the national counter to pick up my reservation and when they saw my license they said sorry we dint rent to anyone under 25. I had to go to every counter until I found a discount company who would.

              • delazeur

                The minimum age is now usually 21, I believe.

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      I’ll skip a lot of explanation to note that I’ve recently realized that long-distance travel is less expensive in a rental car (after turning down all the various types of insurance that I can get far cheaper from my credit cards and a small supplemental fee on my car insurance). Two long trips worked out to less than 10 cents a mile; not sure how the car rental companies make it work. I’m hoping to get 200K miles on my current car, at which point it will work out to 10 cents a mile PLUS maintenance.

  • pseudalicious

    Probably useless anecdata: I’m 35 and I don’t have a license. I had a lot of anxiety (as in, anxiety disorder anxiety, not the regular kind) around it — afraid I would hit and kill a child, afraid I would get lost and never find my way home… When GPS became a thing, the latter anxiety vanished and the first one got managed the way you usually manage anxiety (HEROIN! just kidding, counselong & meds). I’m in an area where you really need a car to get around, but before Lyft and Uber, I made do with the (terrible) local public transit and now I use a lot of Lyft despite its evil (I mean, I also wear clothes made by slaves, eat meat made with tortured animals, use electronics no doubt made with conflict minerals…). Also, I can’t afford a car and car insurance. I’d like to be able to drive in order to be more useful to people, though. (I do know how to drive, albeit not well, and could in an emergency, as long as no one cared about bring pulled over (I’m a white woman)).

    I thought having no car would make me look like a big loser when it came to dating, but I live near DC and a good deal of the people I met there don’t have cars ’cause Metro.

    • JustRuss

      My 23-year-old housemate doesn’t have one, and I’d say anxiety is definitely a factor. Also our town is pretty small and flat, you can bike anywhere in 30 minutes.

  • rea

    At least here in Michigan, they’ve changed the law to make it much more complicated, difficult, and expensive for teenagers to get licensed.

    • JKTH

      I was in high school ~10 years ago and that seemed to be occurring in a lot of states. If you make it harder for teenagers to get a license in high school, they could put it off for a while depending on what they do after HS.

    • Hayden Arse

      Not just Michigan, many states now have restrictions on young drivers like prohibiting their ability to have non-family passengers, so the ability to drive around with friends is basically non-existent. Even teenagers in the suburbs wait to get licenses knowing that having one means that their parents will ask them to drive younger siblings around. There are also restrictions on the hours when young drivers can be on the road. If driving does not equate to freedom for teenagers, it begins to look a lot like the chore that it is.

    • Rob in CT

      Oh, good point. True here in CT as well.

    • Yeah, I think this is a part of it, as well as the decline in driver’s ed offered in high school.

      When I was in HS in small-town Wisconsin in the 1980s, driver’s ed was part of the curriculum. There may have been a fee attached, but if so, it wasn’t much. This was common among the public high schools in the area (although not uniform across the state).

      In any case, these were eventually zeroed out, which meant kids (parents) had to pay hundreds for it. I’d be surprised if this, along with changes in law, didn’t affect the numbers getting their licenses as teenagers.

      • erick

        Yeah, when I was a kid in the 80s drivers ed was a class in school that had a very moderate cost. Now all my nieces and nephews are hitting driving age and it is relatively expensive and outside of school. Most of them are waiting until they turn 18 to even start learning to drive just because of the cost.

  • sam

    I think there are a combination of factors going on. first, in the “old days”, if you wanted to see your friends, you pretty much had to see them in person. These days, with technology, people can spend a lot of time “with” friends but never actually leaving their house. You also no longer need a car to do things like shop or watch movies or a million other things that in the past could ONLY be done by traveling from point a to point b. That’s not to say that doing things “in person” isn’t still valuable, but but it’s not as essential as it used to be.

    Second, alternative forms of transportation are becoming more popular – not just public transit, but things like bicycles, etc. have seen somewhat of a resurgence.

    Third, if you do need to absolutely travel from point a to point b, services like Uber make it possible to get places without knowing how to drive, even in places without public transit – I know that this would have made MY parents’ lives significantly easier when I was a pre-driving teen who did a lot of after-school activities. It was a massive pain in the ass to figure out how to get me picked up from school in the suburbs since both of my parents had jobs. They got me a car as soon as I got a license because it was helpful to THEM more than anything – if they had the option to arrange for a car share to pick me up, that would have been great (and probably cheaper than buying me a car!).

    So it just becomes less…urgent than when we were kids.

    On the flip side – my aunt never learned to drive, having lived in NYC her entire life. She finally got her license at 65. She still doesn’t really drive, but she and my uncle decided it would be a good idea if she had a license for a situation if they were traveling and he became incapable of driving (he’s developed some neuralgia in his legs). So that’s something. She would basically drive the shortest distance possible to get them to a place where she didn’t need to drive anymore, but…still a good idea. Until now, she’s used a passport or a NYS issued non-driver ID.

  • vic rattlehead

    Got my license in Florida when I was 16. But haven’t driven much since graduating high school (and I now live in NYC). Of course I can still drive-it’s trivially easy to renew the license. And I do sometimes rent a car when I travel.

    I just hate driving (especially in and around the city and around north jersey). Living in the city is expensive, but there are no cheaper places in Jersey (by which I mean Hudson county) that are easily accessible to the PATH or a ferry-they’re all expensive as fuck. So to live in a cheaper place in Jersey we’d need a car. Possibly two depending on what my wife’s next job is. And we’d need insurance in the state with the highest auto premiums in the country. And any savings on rent would be quickly evaporated. It’s just another expense I’m glad I don’t have.

  • cleek

    the decline of ‘car culture’ probably has something to do with it.

    • Nobdy

      Not to mention the rise in the price of gasoline (related.) Even though gas prices are down from their peak, driving is pretty expensive to how it used to be.

      I think driving miles in the U.S. are down overall.

      • Thom

        Maybe, re price. (I’m skeptical: the price where I live is currently about $2/gallon, though of course at times it has been much higher; when I was young and in a very expensive part of the country, circa 1970, it was about $0.35/gallon, about $2.18 in 2017 dollars.) But in my youth we were not paying for cell phones, expensive coffees (even at Italian cafes in SF, coffee drinks were not super expensive) and the like. We did perhaps pay more for recorded music, but much less for live music. In short, it may be difficult to compare the relative costs.

        • erick

          Another thing is even though in adjusted dollars gas was about the same when I was in high school in the 80s a big difference is the cheap older cars we were able to buy then (my brother and I shared a ’73 Plymouth for example) got horrible gas mileage, ours got like 12 MPG I think.

          • los

            ’73 Plymouth

            You know that a smart businessman would have had Two Soft Corinthians Naugahyde, and witheld payment.

            “This is why Trump is president, libs!”

      • gccolby

        Driving miles have gone up as the economy has recovered. Sadly, though not surprisingly, road deaths have climbed up with them. Only they’re climbing unexpectedly quickly, probably because everyone got distracting smartphones between 2008 and 2014.

        • Dennis Orphen

          And, as I meant to state earlier in the thread if I was more together this morning, the police cannot or will not enforce the laws (other than speeding) such as using directional signals or staying in the right lane unless passing on a limited access multi-lane highway. If they did, people would learn to drive in about a week, but….you’d be pulling over and ticketing OLDER WHITE PEOPLE and we cannot and will not be having ANY of that. So, Shirley Jackson time.

        • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

          Another factor is there are few highway patrol officers enforcing laws. When I’m on the interstate I’d estimate a quarter of the drivers are going 90 to 100 or more whenever possible, and driving aggressively enough that they could be stopped. Both behaviors increase the death rate.

          Lack of enforcement means that everyone pretty much drives however they want. And with some drivers going 65 and other 100+, the lack of uniformity is itself a problem.

  • In my youth I had this notion that I wouldn’t compromise with The Man: no checking account, no credit card, no driver’s license (yeah, I did get a draft card, but in those days there were still 300,000+ troops in Vietnam, and they gave you a pretty big ticket if you didn’t register). I hitched rides when I needed to travel long distances—generally about five thousand miles a year through most of the early seventies—and felt withal footloose and unencumbered.

    This began to come to an end late in Nixon’s reign when my future ex-wife informed me that while she was OK with paying for the Volkswagen, I was bloody well going to do my share of the driving if our long-distance romance was to continue. And so, with that document’s nose under the tent, did my damnation begin…

    • J. Otto Pohl

      I still don’t have a checking account, credit card, or driver’s license in my late 40s. But, I get great satisfaction sticking it to the man. ;-)

    • Dennis Orphen

      I stick it to the man by being a vegetarian and riding a bike (often simultaneously with using mass transit, every notice those racks on the front?). He hates that most of all. It’s like a million 9/11’s every day, and not only costs me nothing, I come out ahead in every way.

  • Nobdy

    I grew up and went to college in New York City and just never needed a driver’s license. My parents had a car and drove but it just wasn’t a priority. It was actually the application process to law school that got me to finally take driving lessons and get my license, since I was worried I would end up at a law school where driving was necessary. That turned out not to be the case, but having a license in law school did prove useful, since I did pro bono work in rural parts of the state. Now I’m back in New York and I haven’t driven in years. My license lapsed in December and I only got it renewed because I need a form of valid ID.

    I think things like Uber and (obviously) self-driving cars will make driving even less necessary in the years ahead.

    What boggled my mind was not that I didn’t have a license (since lots of New Yorkers, even from previous generations, did not) but the people I met in law school from areas without great mass transit who didn’t have licenses. I knew a guy from suburban Pennsylvania and a woman from Texas who didn’t have their licenses. I asked them how they got around without licenses and they just shrugged and said they managed, one way or another. Part of it is that you don’t need a license in college (where there’s stuff to do close to campus and there are lots of friends around to bum rides from if you need to go further) but I think the Internet also played a role. If you need to buy something not sold within walking distance of your home you can just order it online, instead of having to drive to another city to buy it, for example. The Internet also makes it easier to keep in touch with people without visiting them.

    • Michael Cain

      As an undergraduate in Lincoln, NE and a graduate student in Austin, TX I could have gotten by without a license so long as I was willing to limit where I lived relative to campus. First time it became mandatory was when I went to work at Bell Labs. The Labs’ building was miles from the nearest public transit, and within a few months they were sending me on trips to places where a rental car was necessary.

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      With our ages around 70, and living in a suburban area where the handful of bus routes run twice a day, self-driving cars look like a possible future assuming we remain in our house. Their being hacked scares me, however.

  • Johnnie

    I live in Milwaukee and, while I currently own a car I’m hoping to sell it sometime this year. I would say 90% of my trips are made by bus or bicycle, even in winter. Milwaukee is a pretty car dependent place, but there are certainly plenty of people who live in central areas of the city who really have no need for one. Plus, the county keeps adding wheel taxes and thanks to our crime and accident rates, insurance is pretty steep in most zip codes, so the cost of ownership gets pretty steep, even if you’re like me and sparingly drive a 17 year-old Chevy Prizm.

  • Johnnie

    My best friend lives in Duluth and doesn’t have a license and my younger brother lives in Appleton, Wisconsin without one. In both of those cases, I’m not 100% sure how they do it (though my brother’s lack of steady employment has something to do with it).


    My theory: people are delaying learning how to drive, and tougher requirements are delaying people passing the driving test.

    If (as I did) you simply learn to drive as a teenager because you think it will be useful in later life then you will have a licence regardless of whether you end up using it. If you get to your 20’s without having got you licence, and discover you don’t actually need to drive in the place you live and work, then you’re a lot less likely to ever get it.

  • FridayNext

    Questions like this always remind me of that scene in The Wire when Wallace, leaving Baltimore for the first time, was shocked that the radio stations changed as he was driven further from the city.

    It’s easy for us middle-class bubble dwellers to forget that there are large pockets of our country that don’t travel particularly far from where they live. Their lives do not include traveling to places you need to drive a car. I even have relatives from rural Indiana that don’t drive and have never driven and rarely leave a very small area of the map. (One of my grandfathers never had a license. He drove his tractor where he needed to go) For various reasons these populations are cut off from places distant from their homes.

    And between post 9/11 security measures, closing of state government offices for budget reasons, and straight-up voter suppression strategies that involve restricting access to government ID’s I suspect these marginalized groups will grow.

    I don’t know if this is THE or even AN explanation for this phenomenon, but all (most?) of the comments I have seen thus far seem to assume the people we are talking about are middle-class or above and (but maybe I read too much, or not enough, into them) and I thought the discussion needed broadening.

    • Johnnie

      Not to be a pedant, but I’m going to be one anyway. It’s Bodie who’s shocked by the changing radio stations (and then ends up listening to A Prairie Home Companion)

      • FridayNext

        Pedant away. I would do the same in your situation and if I can’t take it, I can’t dish it out.

        At least in this case, my point stands.

      • I am put in mind of “The Homesick Buick,” a 1950 short story by John D. Macdonald, in which a gang of bank robbers are traced to their hideout by means of correlating the mechanical presets on the radio of their abandoned getaway car to the frequencies of the extant stations in their hometown.

        • steverinoCT

          I recall a 70s-vintage Readers Digest anecdote where the old lady would buy her used cars by sitting in them and hitting the radio presets. If it was easy-listening, she’d buy it; rock-n-roll, she’d presume the car was driven hard and pass.

          Between a USB thumb drive with my tunes on it, CD player, and SiriusXM tuner, I don’t have any stations on my presets.

          And I got my license at 21-ish, because we were poor and I joined the Navy out of HS, and so could ride with my shipmates, or bicycle.

          • DonBoy

            There’s a Columbo where Columbo’s initial tip-off — that thing that isn’t enough to convict, but tells him who to go after — is the fact that the murderer switched a car radio away from its presets.

            • That being the opposite of the hook of a great short story by John D. MacDonald (1950, well before he started his Travis McGee novels), “The Homesick Buick”.

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      The person I know best who lives in a truly rural area has to go about 20 miles for food and further for most other things she needs. The small towns, at least in Kansas, have withered away as the number of people farming has dropped rapidly, and many no longer have most of the basic services people need. And the local mom-and-pop grocery store is gone because they couldn’t compete with the WalMart, which may be 30 miles away but has prices so low shoppers just load up the truck on infrequent trips and save a lot of money.

  • Anna in PDX

    My son does not have his license yet (he’s 25) because he can’t afford to own a car. Insurance is really expensive for young men not to mention the cost of the car itself. Bus pass it is.

    • Dennis Orphen

      And if you ever stop driving and cancel your insurance, the rates go back up higher than they were when you were driving because you are obviously menacingly driving around uninsured. Fuck them.

      Remind anyone of a provision of the proposed ‘health care’ bill?

      • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

        Yeah, I remember when I bought my first car after years of not owning one, I had to get in the assigned risk pool for the first year, at horrendous rates.

        But after a year, and no accidents and tickets, I got into a much cheaper policy.

  • Noosk

    In Maryland, they used to teach driver’s ed in the schools. That was cut due to budget. You still have to show completion of a driver’s ed class in order to get a license, but you have to pay money to attend a privately run class.

    My kid is 16 1/2 and says she doesn’t want to get a license yet. I haven’t pushed, honestly, because the hit on my insurance is going to be scary when it happens and I’m already bracing for college and prom and so forth.

    • Jim in Baltimore

      I was going to mention that. I was taught in high school, in suburban New York, back in the mid-80s. When I came down here, I was amazed that they didn’t teach teenagers to drive when you had them in high school. It just seems more efficient or something.

      Anyway, I lived here in Baltimore without a car for years. Mostly walking or using buses, although I had a motorcycle for a few years. But I got a car after the bus annoyed me at night three weeks in a row. Now I hardly walk and am beginning to get winded going up stairs.

      • LeeEsq

        My high school didn’t exactly teach driver’s ed but there was an after school program that nearly everybody did.

        • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

          Back in the mid-1960s my after-school driving class was part of the public school, so it was nearly free. Of course, the local car dealers vied with one another to be the one selected to give the driver’s ed cars to the schools for free, in the hopes that we’d remember their car when we bought our first one.

  • twointimeofwar

    They show the same ID people who have lost their license for DUI and non-payment of child support show – a state ID card or passport. While the latter can prove citizenship, the former *should* be good enough to vote in most states.

    Both are an expense and a hassle to get in terms of voting, of course. OH allows alternate means to prove ID for voting – but the rules are confusing and change frequently (annually, or at each voting location if the volunteers weren’t trained correctly).

    As for driving – I try not to drive all weekend. I am lucky to live in a part of town that has everything in walking distance (grocery, bank, pharmacy, movie theater, library). I can also Uber – but, that’s because I have money and live in a city.

    I am glad there is a decline in driving… we need more public transit, more walkable neighborhoods, etc. Biking is popular among the young-ins in my area. We have had large sections of the city’s popular roads widened or rearranged for bike lanes. We consider ourselves very lucky in this.

    • steverinoCT

      Uber, Uber, Uber. I drive myself, and am an old fogey, so what is the difference between using Uber and just calling for a cab? Is it the smartphone convenience? I personally would rather have a pro pick me up (especially after hanging out here).

      • BubbaDave

        Uber is a horrible, immoral and exploitative company, but in most cities their drivers are far more responsive than taxis. If you need an Uber, one will be there typically within five minutes, ten at the outside. Last time I called a cab company for pickup (granted, this was inAustin at SXSW), the first one estimated 45 minutes and the second one didn’t answer the phone at all (but did call me back 2 hours later, so… yay?). I ended up walking 4 miles, which was good for my health if not exactly convenient.
        Also, having an app where I can see the driver’s current location is handy, both for predicting arrival time and for being able to send them a message “Hey, it’s the driveway after the white house with the metal fence; if you cross the bridge you’ve gone too far” after you see they’ve missed the turn to pick you up.
        Some cab companies are using apps like Curb and closing that gap, but the Uber/Lyft folks still have the edge in convenience.

        • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

          Cost, too, I imagine. Every once in a while I see a local cab company with the rates on the side of their car, and it looks to me like it would cost $10-$20 each way to go most places I’d need to go.

  • LeeEsq

    1. What old whale of a car was big enough to fit two three people families, one in front and one in back, and a medium seized dog?

    2. Like Newish, I’m kind of surprised because there are many places in the United States with really no transit and even Uber and Lyft are going to make up for this.

    3. The cultural explanation offered above makes some sense. When my parents got their driver’s licenses in the 1960s it was seen as a big deal and a type of unprecedented freedom of movement. By the time I got it the 1990s, it was just seen as something you do. I can’t remember anybody being that excited at it. My guess is that the baby boomers became drivers at the height of car culture and urban decline but the current generation of young people really don’t have the same mystic.

    • wjts

      What old whale of a car was big enough to fit two three people families, one in front and one in back, and a medium seized dog?

      The 1958 Cadillac Dreadnought, with room to spare.

      • Dennis Orphen

        I had a Mercury Grand Marquis Colony Park that could legally seat 8 people, seat belts for all. And that was a newer model where the two back seats faced each other, the older wagons would seat nine because the third seat in the back was another bench that held three across.

        It also had fake wood on the sides, and you could pretty much drive around doing bong hits because you were invisible to anyone who may have cared about that. Real magic is exploiting the difference between perception and reality.

    • Michael Cain

      I learned to drive in a 1953 Buick Special, their low-end car. My friends often remarked that there was room to set up a card table and chairs in the back seat. Six people would have been a piece of cake. It was also known as “The Tank” after a box truck rear-ended my Mom: she drove The Tank away from the accident, but the truck had to be towed.

    • Rob in CT

      I was pretty excited to get my license (early 90s). Freeeeeedom. Well, mostly freedumb, really, but hey I was 16.

    • I’ve fit six adults in my 57 DeSoto FireFlite with room to spare.

    • steverinoCT

      My first car was my grandmother’s hand-me-down 1966 Chevy II, a 4-door Nova with a straight six and two-speed Powerglide transmission. It was considered a small car at the time: I could roll my 10-speed bike into the back and close the door after turning the front wheel.

      When I had an Odyssey minivan I would remove one of the middle seats and fold the rear seats flat in order to fit a bike with the front wheel off. In my current Civic it would be sticking out the back with the trunk lid popped.

      • Dennis Orphen

        People always ask me if I want to just throw my bike in the back of their car and roll with them or get a ride to wherever I’m going. I usually refuse (politely, which is why so many people will do so many favors for me, I seem to really stand out in today’s world because of that), because the time my bike is loaded up (always with great difficulty, often damaging the car and my bike in the process), I could have been to where I was going.

        And if there going on a sushi run or some such, I just ‘tie down my horse’, jump in and roll. I can get my bike later, and it’s not like I don’t have 10 or 20 more at home. But I usually walk to get it early the next morning. Because I live in a rural area, I get stopped by the cops sometimes. Walking is a crime. Last time I was IDd by a sheriffs deputy because he ‘had to make sure I wasn’t an axe murderer’ Funny how in my small village, I never heard about that axe murder. You’d think that would be impossible to cover up, but what do I know?

        PS: The fact that I look like an ‘Axe Murderer’ means I can walk anywhere I like with total impunity, from the middle of nowhere to Downtown Stockton. I’ve been compared to both Al Swearingen and Trevor Phillips at times, which I consider a massive complement, as long as it isn’t coming from one of those water-muddying hoople heads.

  • MattF

    I grew up in NYC and, after graduating college, was an impoverished grad student/postdoc until my early 30’s, so no car, and no driver’s license. Then, I got a job that required commuting, so I got the car and the license. Not a huge deal, although there was some anxiety to deal with. I’ve gotten good enough at the ‘car’ thing– but I think I’d do fine without it.

  • okienla

    One issue I haven’t read on here is renting a car. You need a license not just ID. My son (29) lives in Berlin and before that SF. He hasn’t had a car since college at Santa Cruz. Bikes and busses to get around but he still had a drivers license left over from LA where he grew up and needed a car. Then he forgot to renew it when he was home for a visit. Now he can’t rent a car and depends on relatives and friends to get around when he visits the US. It is a problem since family is spread out over half the country. My daughter is in NOLA and has to have a car to work since the transit there sucks. Oh and I failed my first drivers test in Oklahoma 1969 on my birthday. Not much more humiliating than that at that age.

    • FridayNext

      The same goes for car share companies. I don’t currently own a car, but I keep my license current to rent and occasionally use ZipCar.

    • steverinoCT

      I failed my first drivers test in Oklahoma 1969 on my birthday. Not much more humiliating than that…

      I failed my road test after I lost my license due to a youthful indiscretion. In Florida, on an enclosed course. I “Heck I’ve been driving for years” blew it, with four rolling stops (failing to come to a complete stop) at the four stop signs. I could go back the next day, and wait hours in line again, and you can be sure I stopped, and looked both ways, and was the perfect model of a little old lady.

  • BiloSagdiyev

    I’m assuming a lot of it is financial.

    Here’s one data point: when Honda brought out the Element box-like SUV thing, they were aiming it smack dab at the young.
    After a year or so, their sales data back at HQ were very ambiguous. It seemed like it was a hit among a notably older demographic, but they were convinced they were also selling a lot of them that would be used by young people, but the parents were the buyers. It seemed like the first hint they were getting that 20-somethings weren’t really buying new cars – and might not be able to buy new cars like they used to, even lower-priced ones.

    (There may have been another odd-looking thing brought out at the same time by another manufacturer, aiming at the same demographic, that went through the same experience, but I’m drawing a blank right now.)

    I don’t know why the Toyota Scion sub-brand died off, but I have my suspicions.

  • RonC

    As people mention it is more difficult to get a license now, with having to prove you passed a certified course, which are mostly not taught in schools for free anymore.

    Second, is mandatory insurance. Very high for younger men especially. Back in the day, one had insurance if one wanted to be responsible, otherwise, eh (I had it because my Dad sold it, and then because you had to have it if you drove on the base. After that I didn’t carry insurance for about 10 years).

    Third, I’d guess DUI laws have made driving more difficult particularly on weekends. Back in the day, the day being the latter part of the 20th Century, Getting wasted at a bar or friend’s house and then going for a ride at about 2 A.M. was no big deal. Now it is.

  • camhair

    I’m 30 years old. Basically it boils down to this:
    1. Commuting more than an hour both ways is the dumbest goddamn thing in the world.
    2. Cars are stupid money pits.

    I have a car and drivers license but chose to live downtown where I can walk almost everywhere except for certain errands. I live in a small(ish) town in Michigan. There is no good mass transit but plenty of people here don’t mess with cars. If there’s one thing younger people universally hate it’s commutes.

    Commuting is awful. It’s stupid. My heart goes out to those who have to do it in order to buy a house or even rent (San Fran). Now. Those with kids have other considerations. But Southwest Detroit is getting busier because there are lots of younger people buying fixer-uppers rather than living in the suburbs and commuting.

    • Rob in CT

      Commuting is awful. It’s stupid.

      Yeah. I definitely put a limit on how long I was willing to let my commute get. It’s 1/2 an hour (one-way). That’s not nothing, but it’s not soul-suckingly bad.

      Thing is… I have a friend who lives ~2 miles from the office. She takes the local bus service. Door to door it’s like 20 minutes for her. Walking takes ~35 minutes.

      Which, to be clear, is better than my 1/2 hour commute where I barely walk at all. Plus she can read on the bus. And the bus pass is cheaper than my costs for gas/parking, let alone including the cost of the car/insurance (though she too has a car. She just barely drives it).

      But from a straight time spent perspective it’s not that much different. Likewise, though she’s much closer to various stores, they’re not actually walkable from her house so she has to drive there and given lights/traffic it’s not much faster than my situation, where I’m like 12-15 miles from anything.

      The cars = money pits thing is just plain true. Even if you’re fairly frugal about it.

      • Denverite

        But from a straight time spent perspective it’s not that much different.

        Many years ago, we lived in the South Loop in Chicago for a year. I was working in the Indiana suburbs, and my spouse was working in Old Town (a neighborhood just north of downtown if you’re not familiar). My commute was about 28 miles; hers was about 2.5 miles (1/4 mile walk, subway ride, 1/4 mile walk). We’d leave at the same time, and it would be neck and neck who got there first — I was reverse commuting, so there wouldn’t be any cars on the road going my way, and I could drive 75 pretty much the whole way in.

        • Dennis Orphen

          In Chicago you have to drive 75, wherever, whenever, or as soon as your stopped, some yuppie will pull a golf club out of the trunk of their luxury German Sedan, and beat you nearly to death with it. And after moving to rural, aged California, I’d gladly caddy for them.

      • steverinoCT

        I got my house in Groton when I was at the Sub Base: close enough to bike. My first job was in Middlefield, 50 miles away, no traffic at all but some back roads. My current job is in Hartford, also exactly 50 miles away (interesting!) but with about 15 minutes’ worth of traffic near the city. I like to drive, so I don’t mind the commute, and it gives me a chance to unwind (in BOTH directions); I like where I live, so am not going to move to be closer to work. Plus I grew up in North Jersey, a bike ride from the GW Bridge, and I know what REAL commuting is.

        • Rob in CT

          Yeah, you’re coming up Route 2 I imagine. That last bit getting to Hartford is pretty congested.

          Most of my drive is on 384 (the Road To Nowhere).

      • vic rattlehead

        My commute is about 55 minutes on a good day (that’s if I get my regular train and don’t miss it and have to stand around with my thumb up my ass waiting for the next one, and then assuming there aren’t horrific delays on the 1/2/3 or A/C/E). If I screw up my timing on the train and/or he subway service sucks it can be up to 90 minutes.

        Not too bad. Only one transfer. I can usually get some reading done on the Kindle app on my phone which is nice. An hour each way would probably feel hellacious if I had to drive.

        I hate driving even (or perhaps especially) on vacation. I went to the wedding of an old friend down in South Florida and I felt like I spent 70% of my trip sitting in traffic with my thumb up my ass on the Palmetto or US-1.

        • vic rattlehead

          I should add, my monthly NJ Transit pass is ~$150. Monthly subway pass…they just changed it again I think it’s around 110. Still beats gas maintenance and insurance.

          • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

            And I imagine it really beats the cost of living near where you work.

            When I left Chicago in the late 1980s a studio apartment where I worked (and hardly in a fancy neighborhood) had just gone to over $1,000. I lived in a marginal neighborhood (in Uptown) with gang houses that I walked by, but in a large apartment, for $600, which is all we could afford for 3 adults, all with jobs, but low-paying ones.

        • Abbey Bartlet

          and then assuming there aren’t horrific delays on the 1/2/3 or A/C/E)

          There are.

          • vic rattlehead

            Of course.

        • Rob in CT

          Ouch. Yeah, it would be worse if you were driving, but 55+ minutes is tough.

          • vic rattlehead

            Could be worse. Beats not working anyway. But I don’t know how I’d do it if I had kids.

    • Dennis Orphen

      I get a lot of work done on the bus during my commute. I also socialize with lots of different people who I wouldn’t know (and wouldn’t know me) otherwise. Shared experiences make good friends out of people, similiar or different in whatever metric they may be.

      Also, by not driving, I only have to work a few hours a week, and still live like a rock-star at 50, with plenty of miles left in me. And my fellow ‘rock-stars’ will always lend me their high-end luxury Anglo/European automobiles. I always return the favors. When they need everything from an extra set of hands to change an air suspension bag in a Range Rover to a cut down 5/8 wrench to adjust the mixture on an SU carburetor, Dennis Orphen is there. Not only does nobody else have a clue what to do, but I’m the only one who has the time to show up on call to help, because I’m not slaving to pay for my car. In fact, there’s a timing light in my messenger bag right now for exactly such a purpose. If you take away the cars and televisions, this is a third world country (or worse) and having a set of metric sockets, a timing light, or whatever makes me a wizard.

      • Srsly Dad Y

        Are you a Mustachian?

        • Dennis Orphen

          Nice, thanks, you fucking rock. I had no idea about that website (I only come here, seriously), but I’ll check that out, and probably, yes. I have monetized my badassness in many ways. It’s not for everyone, but in the words of fellow badass Fred Dryer (in character as Hunter), ‘Works for me’.

          Sooner or later someone is going to either figure out who I am, or see me somewhere and know right away that that’s ‘Dennis Orphen’.

  • CrunchyFrog

    Well, I’m seeing trend even in our area. There is NO public transport here, no Uber, no Lyft, nothing. This area votes at least 75% GOP in every election. Yet 35 years ago when I was a teen in a similar area in the same state it was a given that every teen got their license as close to their 16th birthday as possible. For teens it was freedom. For parents it was a bit of an expense but also a relief from chauffeuring duties. Now quite a few teens still get their licenses that quickly, and a majority before they turn 17, but a surprising number don’t until after they leave the house and maybe not until post college.

    Why? Well, the expense of an extra car and the insurance may be a factor. And it’s a lot more work to get a license than it used to be – more paperwork, longer periods, and huge financial incentives to have the kid get a formal non-school drivers’ training course.

    But for the main reason, well, the kids who are the least likely to be driving on their 18th birthdays are those from the most conservative, fundamentalist families. It’s about trust. These are the same people who are the last to give their kids cell phones and who enforce the strictest rules about their lives. 35 years ago those families still gave their kids licenses on their 16th birthday – but fundie rules are much stricter now than they used to be. It’s a cultural shift – perhaps a logical outcome of 30 years of wingnut propaganda telling them how dangerous the world is.

    I’m sure there are also trends in the urban areas, but 35 years ago that was also true. I remember going to a college where a third of the student body was from NYC and being surprised how few of them had driver’s licenses (this was a topic that came up when people tried to figure out how to get to the nearest mall 15 miles away and someone would suggest using the college car rental service).

    • Denverite

      For parents it was a bit of an expense but also a relief from chauffeuring duties.

      I cannot tell you how happy we will be when our days are no longer scheduled around getting kids to/from school and softball/basketball/rugby practice.

      • CrunchyFrog

        All 4 of ours drive. I personally am paying the salary of one receptionist at our local State Farm office, I’m sure of it. But the upside is exactly that – when needed they can drive themselves. Mind you, when all 4 are at home (2 are off to college) it’s a bit of work to make sure we all have cars when we need them.

      • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

        Another thing that’s changed from when I was in HS in the early to mid-1960s: Very few kids had any organized after-school activities unless they were in band, on a sports team (football, basketball, baseball and golf were the only choices) and many of those weren’t daily. Oh, I guess there was a chess club (4 guys the time I checked it out) and a debate team (maybe 4-6 people). Kids had the summers free, generally, unless they had a summer job (usually to buy a car) and summers lasted roughly Memorial Day to Labor Day, too. The whole idea of children having such complex lives that they needed complex schedules was alien, except for the few kids who had after-school jobs and were trying to do anything else that was organized.

        I look at kids today, and their time schedules are far more complex than mine were at any time in my life. Almost no time to just laze around and do whatever you wanted to do with your friends like in my day. I’m not someone who wants to go back to the 1950s, which sucked in a lot of ways, especially if you weren’t a straight white male, but there’s no denying there were some parts of it that were desirable.

  • gccolby

    I grew up in exurban central Massachusetts with three siblings, so we all got our driver’s licenses around 17 (this is 2002 or 2003). Definitely made my parent’s lives easier. But graduated licensing even then made things more complicated than it used to be.

    But then I went to college, without a car, and had to learn to get around without them. I was already kind of interested in bikes, and that’s when I really fell headlong into cycling nerddom. So that’s a way I have to get around, and I’ve always been unusually fearless about navigating crappy roads on a bike.

    These days, I have a car, but I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. Certainly Boston is a really horrifying car-dependent city in ways with really visible consequences for quality of life and social justifice. But our transportation department is solidly stuck in the 1970’s, so we get a lot of projects designed to increase the flow of car traffic, despite decades of evidence this doesn’t improve traffic. Meanwhile our public transit infrastructure continues to decay.

    Anyway, I would probably have a car anyway for various reasons, but a major factor in our owning one is that my wife is really from the country and when you’re from the country, not having a car means being really isolated. And she’s much less comfortable with cycling in traffic than I am. But the way we live, even within the limits of a denser city like Boston, makes life without a car more complicated. I have friends who manage just fine, of course. But I’ve done the car-free thing myself, and urban/suburban planning doesn’t make it as easy as it should. We could save hundreds of millions of dollars, tens of thousands of lives if we scaled things back. But convenience, even though that convenience is the product of policy more than natural law, is very sticky.

    • Downpuppy

      The funniest Boston planning going these days is in the Seaport District. They’re opening a new building every month or so on Seaport Blvd, with absolutely zero work on getting people in or out of the neighborhood. By next year, it’ll be a total lockup.

      • gccolby

        Oh, it’s already a fucking disaster. Just try holding a public event in the area – people hate it, because they can either pay through the nose to park* in an underground garage, or figure out some way to get there with a public transit network that barely serves the neighborhood at all. There’s probably some degree to which the rich jerks buying penthouse suites in the Seaport actually are happy with this state of affairs, though. Ugh.

        *Another rant for another time, but part of the problem is how parking is really severely underpriced, even when it seems exorbitant.

        • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

          Probably a thing of the past, but in the 1970s and 80s I would at rare times need to drive into downtown Chicago, where the cheapest parking would be at these small open lots where you’d leave them your car keys and tell them how long you expected to be there.

          They’d then jockey your car and other people’s cars around as people came to retrieve their car. Since there was usually only one or two empty spaces, it took a lot of fiddling to get most cars out. They left the keys in the cars the whole time as the cars were in frequent, but unpredictable, motion. I guess theft wasn’t a problem because at any moment almost all of the cars were blocked in.

  • Justin Runia

    My money is on the combo of three things; economic downturn, combined with the robust development of social media on the internet, combined with drive-sharing apps like Uber. It used to be you had to get into a car to visit a ‘third place’ with your friends, but now video chat is prevalent enough that you can fulfill most of your social yearnings without leaving the house. But car use is rebounding pretty quickly along with the economy, so I wouldn’t necessarily count on this phenomenon lasting for very much longer.

  • BubbaDave

    I’m still a car owner for now, but that’s because in May I’m throwing my stuff into storage here in Portland and heading to UP Michigan to spend May-September in a cabin in the woods. Once I’m back in Portland, then I’ll have a decision to make, because here I drive so seldom that car payments and insurance are not delivering value for the money.

    I’ll still keep a drivers’ license though, because Car2Go and car rental when I’m traveling for work.

  • Linnaeus

    I started driving as soon as I was legally able to do so. My father in particular pushed this, and even gave me some money for my first car, mostly because he was tired of having to give me rides after school, to friends’ houses, etc. The public transit system of southeastern Michigan is not very, ahem, robust, so you still need a car to get to most places.

    The city I live in now has better public transportation, and I work mostly from home, so I drive much less than I did 15-20 years ago. That said, I still need a car for when I’m out in the field, because using public transportation (or short-term rentals like Zipcar or Car2Go) is not practical for getting to the places that I need to go.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Yes, that’s also what I think of when I hear the, “Oh! the kids today! don’t want cars!” — I think, they’re still getting around in somebody else’s car in a lot of cases, aren’t they? (i.e., parental)

  • spearmint66

    Does delaying family and children play a part? It’s much more practical to get yourself around with public transportation/biking/walking than it is to move kids to and fro that way. Even if it’s workable, if a round trip costs eight public transportation fares, the financial balance tips towards a car. So if fewer 25 year olds have kids, fewer 25 year olds may drive.

  • sum goy

    I think it’s pretty clear the younguns have chosen to Drive With Trump. Many of my riders have left their cars at home during the school year and Drive with Trump almost exclusively for shopping and socializing, using their bikes or public bus transport to get to classes. I have had quite a few students tell me they don’t own a car at all, as it is now cheaper to Drive with Trump. The vast majority of my riders who Drive with Trump do have their licenses, but choose to Drive with Trump due to the decreased costs involved, increased safety, and convenience. Drive with Trump, it helps the economy.

  • NeonTrotsky

    I’m a millennial without a car, although I do have a license. The main reason for not having one is simply finances. A car itself is expense, gas is expensive, maintenance is expensive, and parking on campus is exorbitant(and in increasingly short supply).

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      parking on campus is exorbitant (and in increasingly short supply).

      Is it in increasingly short supply because there’s less of it, or because there’s more people parking their cars?

  • JustRuss

    Lot of good stuff here. I got my license in 1978, here’s what I’ve noticed:
    1. Driver’s Ed used to be taught in schools. It went from easy and cheap to expensive and a time commitment for kids who are already scheduled to death and buried in homework.
    2. Social media. Used to be you had actually be with your friends if you wanted to hang out with them.
    3. Entertainment options. Back in the day, staying home meant time with family, reading, or watching something everyone could agree on playing on one of 5 or 6 TV channels. No video games, no cable, no DVDs, no Netflix.
    4. Cell Phones. Most families I knew had one phone line, the really fancy folks had an extra line for the kids. And no fancy 3 or 4-way calling, phone conversations were 2-person affairs. So remote socializing was really limited.
    5. As others have noted, states have implemented more restrictions on teen-age drivers.

    So it’s a lot of factors, taken together they add up.

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      And I’m a dozen years or so earlier than you.

      My notes:
      3. “one of 5 or 6 TV channels”: we had the 3 networks plus one independent station (this was mostly before UHF channels existed) in the Dayton area, though we could sometimes pick up snowy signals from Cincinnati – though why bother, their network stations were basically the same as ours, and the independent station owned the independent station in Cincinnati, and two other towns. (I can still remember their jingle listing their station numbers in each town!) But smaller towns didn’t have the independent station and/or all 3 of the networks. Remote areas only had radio, which of course was only AM until the early 60s, when FM, basically all-classical music with virtually no commercials, came along.

      4. Long distance calls were truly expensive, especially back before area codes, when you had to go through an operator. You maybe called a few relatives for a very few minutes at Christmas, IF you could get through. (Unless you called very early or very late, you’d try for hours, each time getting the “all circuits to X are busy” from the operators when they finally answered.) Also, phones were rotary until I was almost out of HS, and most of my life the first two parts of a telephone number were letters, not numbers, expressed say as “CA” would be called “CApitol”. Most people knew where the letters were on a rotary dial without looking. If you were impatient, you’d try to force the rotary dial to move faster on the return, but the mechanism fought you.

  • Gizmo

    Automobiles, gas, and insurance are expensive. Atrios has made this point many times.

    “We have the best transit system in the world. It just costs $10,000 to get a ticket” – Author forgotten.

  • CHD

    It started well before the social media explosion in my experience. Having observed this from the heart of suburbia outside of San Diego, I’m pretty sure it’s an extension of the helicopter parent phenomena. You never see any kid under 12 outside anywhere without an adult anymore because parents are so afraid of everything. So the parents drive them everywhere, worrying all the time about how dangerous driving is. So a. the kids are scared to drive and b. the parents have no idea how to let go. IMO the other things (availability of Uber, preference for walkable areas) are a response​ to this, not a cause.

    • CHD

      Also, the cost isn’t any higher now in real terms than in e.g. the late 70s when I got my license, with the (possible, localized) exception of insurance. Gas is still cheap, and cheap used cars are a lot more reliable now than they used to be. Heck even new cars are reasonably similarly priced after inflation.
      ETA any idea why I’m suddenly stuck in moderation? No links, no history of anything remotely like flaming…?

    • JustRuss

      Yeah, I left this off my list above, as it’s getting into “Kids these days!” territory, but I think it is a factor. I live near an elementary school in a very walkable neighborhood, and every morning there’s a parade of cars dropping off kids. I grew up about 3/4 mile from my elementary school, and I doubt my parents drove me to school more than 10 times in 6 years, and it was the same for my friends. In high school we all lived 1-5 miles from the school, and we all biked, because that’s how you got around if you couldn’t drive.

      I’d imagine kids that have been chauffeured their whole lives experience more fear and angst about being on their own than those of us who were transport-independent for most of our childhoods.

      Also, get off my lawn.

      • los

        We had breadbags, but we didn’t wear them over our shoes. There were barely enough spare breadbags to pull over neighbor’s toddlers heads to suffocate them.

        Every Halloween (except for the blizzard of ’91), our nana let us put just one cat in one bag, and swing it off the overpass.

        And we built firm integritudal formility!

        All you kids are spoiled. You’ll never know what it was like.

        — George “Baby Georgie” Piranha

      • CHD

        @JustRuss I think it’s “parents these days” not “kids these days”. I’ve seen it up close: my SIL’s fear was most of why my nephew didn’t want to get his license until he was at least 18 (and this was nine years ago). (And of course his mother couldn’t understand why he didn’t want his license and preferred to have her drive him everywhere.)

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      Then there’s the stories of parents being threatened with loss of parental rights because their child was more than a few dozen feet away from them.

      My mother never worked, and yet she had only a vague idea at best where I was much of the day even when I was in grade school. I might start out at a friend’s house, but then someone else would come by and off we’d go with them. It wasn’t unusual to wind up a mile or two away in almost any direction in what was mostly a maze of housing developments, with a little bit of businesses and stores on the major streets. We’d toss a baseball, or less often, a football, in the streets. If enough kids materialized, we go off to a park to play baseball mostly; touch football led to minor injuries more than we liked. Also size differences, mostly related to age differences, made it harder to balance teams in football than baseball.

  • Alex.S

    I have a license, but haven’t had a car for a long time. I use the license for driving rentals when required by work. Or if I need to rent a car to take a trip. Used to have a ZipCar card, but I ditched that when I realized I wasn’t using it often enough.

    I think there are a few reasons for it–

    * Rideshare programs (Uber/Lyft). When I lived in Chicago, I didn’t rely on them because Chicago’s taxi system is really robust. But in other areas, they’re very useful. The big thing for me is the ability to get back to the transit center, greatly expanding the range of the train or metro system.

    * Internet maps with bus schedules and next bus systems. I remember having to consult a map to figure out how to get from downtown to someone’s house. Now, I can just put in the address and follow directions.

    * System transit cards. Many metro areas now have system transit cards that work across different transit companies. Not having to know fares, get transfers, or carry cash has been really helpful.

    * I can also stay online while commuting now. Which weirdly, is something that people shouldn’t be doing while driving.

    TLDR: The internet made transit services much better quality, without old-style improvements (more stops, lines, or services) in transit services.

    • BubbaDave

      Very good point about Internet maps/bus schedules. When I visited Boston in 2004 or so for Macworld Expo my fellow out-of-towners were amazed ad my mad subway-riding skills. Today, when I get to a new city my iPhone picks up the transit maps and I just say “I’m trying to get to this address” and it leads me to the bus stop, tells me which bus to take, where to transfer, where to get off, and hot to find my way from that bus stop to my destination. No thinking required.

      • Rob in CT

        Yeah, it really is pretty awesome (though I like to do a little thinking just in case the app is wrong or some other curveball gets thrown my way).

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      One of the odder experiences I had about 30 years ago riding Amtrak was being joined up at dinner with 2 guys who had worked for some California transit department information line.

      They were now retired, but wanted to keep their memories sharp of the routes and schedules. The entire dinner conversation consisted of one of them coming up with some departure and destination and a particular time and day, then the other one would go through this elaborate series of trips with numerous transfers to get there. Once or twice the other one would correct him, but mostly they just nodded. Then they’d switch and the other one would ask the best puzzler trip he could think of.

  • CSI

    It would be mostly economic. The cost and hassle of getting a license has gone up considerably, particularly for those under 18 or 21 (graduated licensing). I believe many (most?) high schools in America have also stopped offering free drivers ed, and professional driving instruction is pricey.

    At the same time the cost of owning and driving a car, particularly for young drivers due to insurance, has also gone up. This further lowers the incentive to get a license.

    • CHD

      Actually it’s really not much more expensive now than in the late 70s after inflation. Gas is still almost historically cheap (and gas mileage is better), used cars aren’t much more than they were, and repairs may be more expensive but are also far far less common.
      That being said, finances are still probably a factor but only because of the historically low minimum wage.

  • leftwingfox

    I got my learner’s at 16, and my license at 27. Before then, I lived in places that were largely walkable (anything less than 30 min by foot) and had decent public or commercial transportation.

    Palm Desert was the only city where I felt I needed a car. California was about the only place I could afford a car (bought a repo beater for $1800 from a mechanic, and the “permission to drive” insurance.)

    Since moving back to Canada, I’ve kept my license and rent 3-6 times /year. Right now, my money goes into a nice apartment next to the office and saving for retirement… finally.

  • guthrie

    I haven’t read comments yet, but here in the UK I think the difficulties of driving as a young person are multiple. For starters, more people get driving lessons, which cost money. Then there’s the insurance. Which is much higher now than when I learnt to drive. Not to mention that the test has gotten bigger and more complex, not entirely in a good way.

    Plus if you do get your own car you know it’ll cost multiple times what it is worth in order to insure it, so why bother even learning to drive?
    And if you get a job will it even pay enough to afford a car and driving lessons etc.

    • guthrie

      Another very minor thing in the UK- you used to be able to drive minibuses and large vans straight after getting your licence, but in 1997 or so they changed that so you needed another test. What used to happen was that you got your licence and actually used it driving minibuses for groups at university or wherever; i.e. you could easily use it in a social setting long before you got your own car.
      Now though, you can’t.

    • CSI

      The cost of insurance for young drivers in the UK is absurd. For example:


      I’m sure their reasons for this are quite rational. Still, it seems they are hurting their long term business by discouraging so many young people from driving.

  • Abbey Bartlet

    I didn’t read all the comments, but a quick search indicates no mention of increased concern about the environment. I know that’s one reason why a lot of my peers don’t *want* to drive.

    • Rob in CT

      I thought about raising that, but considered that it might be lumped into “increased urbanization” in that one of the reasons The Yout likes cities more than The Olds do has to do with greener living…


      • Abbey Bartlet

        That may be fair, to lump it in. But availability of public transit is definitely a factor in people choosing to live actually in a city rather than the suburbs, and part of the reason (sometimes the major part) is an awareness of how bad cars are for the environment.

        Idk if it affects licenses much, but it does affect driving.

        • Dennis Orphen

          Also very bad for the social environment. Ever notice being behind the wheel of a car seems to give some people Carte Blanche to be the biggest imaginable assholes? I’ll pass.

    • JustRuss

      Interesting. I’ve seen this topic discussed on a number of blogs, and I don’t think that’s ever come up.

      • JustRuss

        Just to be clear, I don’t mean that in a “so you must be wrong” way, but more “thanks for adding that to the conversation.”

  • los

    All that crazy “rap” music?

    Ninety miles an hour in my 5.0
    (though, 1990s and weak)

  • Bloix

    It’s much harder and more expensive to get a license now.
    Unlike me (licensed at 16), my boys didn’t get licenses until they were 19 and 20. This was due to the removal of driver ed from high school (when I was in school you got PE credit for driver’s ed!), so we had to pay for the course and get our kids to and from the school on weekends or during vacations. And then they had to complete 60 (sixty!) hours of supervised driving before taking the test. If I were a single parent with a full-time job I can’t imagine how I could have found 60 hours to drive around with my kid at the wheel.

    • los

      I can’t imagine how I could have found 60 hours to drive around with my kid at the wheel.

      Yeah, it’s not like everyone lives next door to an abandoned airfield.
      Who are these booracrats?

      • los

        (err, I forgot the formatting.)

        … drive around with MY KID AT THE WHEEL.

  • biztheclown

    There has been a decline in knowledge around automobile repair and maintenance as well, at the same time as the increase of vehicular complexity. Many people used to know how to fix cars. Now not so much. Not knowing how to fix things that go wrong introduces a reverse lottery cost structure to owning older cars that I’m not at all surprised people are opting out of when able.

    • Dennis Orphen

      Then people like me buy an OBD code reader for chumpchange and the most complex vehicles diagnose themselves. Those O2 sensors still ain’t cheap though.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      OTOH, there’s never been a better time to be a DIY repairer – there is endless support on the internet from fellow enthusiasts.

      If you’re starting from scratch, it may all be more intimidating, but really, the basics haven’t changed much for so many things. Brake pads are still brake pads. Spark plugs are still spark plugs… that hardly ever need changing (so they say) but can be a real PITA to get at sometimes.

      In many ways, we pay professional mechanics not just for knowing how and having an ultimate set of tools, but just for having fingertips of steel and being able to undo electrical connectors in the dark around a bend that they can’t see.

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