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Young people are driving a lot less

As a kid growing up in the suburbs, I got my driver’s license the day I turned 16. Being able to drive was a big deal. But we know that this desire to drive has been changing in profound ways. Here’s some recent stats on the percentage of licensed drivers in the US by age (taken from the WSJ):

In 1983, about 46% of 16-year-olds had a driver’s license. By 2014, this number had dropped to 24.5%, which is the lowest it has been in recent years, and was probably impacted by the broader economy. As of 2017, this number was up to about 26%.

If you’re a car company, I would imagine that these are pretty important numbers. They represent the top of the sales funnel. Most people probably like to have a driver’s license in hand before they go out and buy a car.

Supposedly, some people in Detroit are betting that young people will still eventually buy a car. And when they do, it’ll be a nice big one like an SUV or a truck. But, the data suggests that it is not just young people who are eschewing driving.

Here’s some data from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (via NPR), looking at the proportion of licensed drivers in the US by all age categories:

While the biggest drop has certainly happened among younger generations, licensing is still down for older cohorts. Based on these numbers, we don’t hit parity until somewhere around 50 to 54 years old.

And the only cohorts where licensing has increased significantly are when people reach over 55. Over 70 is up by a huge margin — more than the drop among 16 year olds — which is probably a symptom of people living longer.

Some of this decrease among young people can probably be attributed to delayed family formation and people living in denser urban environments, where it is more convenient to get around without a car. But I don’t think that’s all of it.

Which suggests to me that the race to autonomy is a pretty important one to win.


  1. michaelholloway111

    You list a lot of stats showing lower and lower licensing the younger the individual, and then point out economy, later family formation (due to economy) and dense urban living; and then you say these aren’t the reasons, and that autonomous is the solution. I don’t understand. Why does autonomous change the trend?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tbone

      It doesn’t its just more fun to talk about than a overall rise in living costs reduction in affordability for things like privately owned cars. Also doesn’t take into account expanded public transit systems across N.A.

      Liked by 1 person

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