New Report Shows Mounting Evidence of Millennials’ Shift Away from Driving

Media Contacts

Congestion forecasts and government still ignore lasting change in North Carolina and nationwide

NCPIRG Education Fund

A new report from the NCPIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group shows mounting evidence that the Millennial generation’s dramatic shift away from driving is more than temporary. While the 2000s saw a marked decrease in the average number of miles traveled by young Americans, the study explains that those trends appear likely to continue even as the economy improves – in light of the consistency of Millennials’ surveyed preferences, a continued reduction of Millennials driving to work, and the continued decreases in per-capita driving among all Americans.

“Millennials are different from their parents, and those differences aren’t going away,” said Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst at the NCPIRG Education Fund and co-author of the report. “After five years of economic growth with stagnant driving, it’s time for the federal and North Carolina governments to wake up to growing evidence that Millennials don’t want to drive as much as their parents did. This change has big implications and policy makers shouldn’t be asleep at the wheel.”

“Millennials are trying to send a message to policy-makers: We want convenient, walkable neighborhoods with many options for how to get around,” said Tony Dutzik, Senior Analyst at the Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “Unfortunately, many of our nation’s transportation policies work to ensure just the opposite result.”

The report includes many findings that suggest that Millennials’ shift away from driving last decade is continuing:

    • Census data shows that the share of 16 to 24 year-olds traveling to work by car declined by 1.5 percentage points between 2006 and 2013, while the share of young people getting to work by public transportation, on foot or by bicycle, or else working from home, had increased.
    • Young people aged 20 to 30 are less likely to move from central cities to suburbs than at any time since at least the late 1990s.
    • Millennials consistently report greater attraction to less driving-intensive lifestyles — urban living, residence in “walkable” communities, and openness to the use of non-driving modes of transport — than older generations.
    • Fewer young people are getting their driver’s licenses than even a few years ago. The percentage of high school seniors with driver’s licenses declined from 85 percent to 73 percent between 1996 and 2010, according to the AAA Foundation for Highway Safety, with federal data suggesting that the decline has continued since then.

Millennials are the largest generation in number and they will be the chief users of the transportation investments that get made over the coming decade. Millennials are expected to drive more as they reach the peak-driving years of middle age, but if they drive less (or even no more) than their parents did in middle age, it will be a monumental shift in travel trends since the 1950s and the assumptions underpinning current transportation policy.

In reviewing a wide range of data from the last few years, the report finds that many of the reasons why Millennials are driving less are long-term trends that are likely to last. 

    • While young adults “living on their parents’ sofa” increased during the recession, the share living in their parents’ homes had also been increasing even prior to the recession.
    • The recession may have caused some Millennials to delay forming separate families that would likely drive more, but Americans have been getting married and having children at a later age nearly continuously since the 1960s. These trends have continued during the recovery.
    • Graduated driver licensing requirements adopted in recent years by state governments have likely played a small but important role in causing young people to delay or forgo getting a driver’s license, potentially encouraging Millennials to develop less car-dependent transportation habits that they may carry with them as they age.

Americans drive fewer total miles than we did in 2005, and fewer miles per capita than we did in the mid-1990s. People are riding public transportation more than at any time since the mid-1950s, the number of people working at home continues to surge, and bicycling has become the fastest-growing mode of commuting. Demand for housing and office space in walkable neighborhoods of many cities is outpacing the supply of new construction.

“This report is about more than just describing what is taking place,” said Baxandall. “It is also about an opportunity. If Millennials continue to drive fewer miles than previous generations as they age — and if future generations of young people follow suit — America will have an opportunity to reap a variety of benefits, including reduced traffic congestion, fewer deaths and injuries on the roads, reduced expenditures for highway construction and less pollution of our air and climate.”

The report calls on public leaders to rethink their transportation investments to accommodate and encourage the Millennial generation in its desire for less car-intensive lifestyles. This includes greater investment in public transit and biking infrastructure, and using highway funds to repair of existing roads rather than building new are wider highways. State and federal governments should also assist efforts currently being led by cities to encourage walkable communities and innovative uses of technology that connect travelers to more travel options and shared vehicles.

The NCPIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group have been leaders in following and explaining the ongoing shift away from driving through a series of reports on the trend, including a study last month of major highway expansion plans that do not make sense in light of these ongoing travel trends.