Ready to Go — Without a Driver’s License

We’ve heard over the past few years that the driving boom is over in the US. People are driving less and a smaller portion of the population is choosing to have a driver’s license.

Michael Sivak and his colleagues at the University of Michigan recently released an update on the percentage of people with driver’s licenses in the US. In 2011, the original research found that the percentage of young people with a driver’s license decreased substantially between 1983 and 2008. What’s the latest on driver’s license trends?

An even larger percentage of young and middle aged adults are going about their lives without driving themselves around. For example, the percentages for 20- to 24-year-olds fell from 91.8% in 1983 to 82% in 2011 in the prior research. They fell, again, to 76.7% in 2014. The continued trend opens conversations about transportation priorities. If fewer people are getting driver’s licenses, and thus getting around some other way, how are they accessing the places they need to go to get things done? For all that autonomous vehicles gained traction, they aren’t yet carting around young people without drivers licenses. And, yes, ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft took off, but transit ridership broke records.

This trend could mean a long-term increase in demand for transit—useful transit. If so, it seems time to discuss transportation priorities, including whether and how to change infrastructure and services and deciding out how to pay for it.

5 Responses to Ready to Go — Without a Driver’s License

  1. el_slapper January 26, 2016 at 5:52 am #

    Several reasons to that slow change, IMHO. I’d like to point one of them : modern economy likes big towns. There seems to be a critical mass under which towns are getting unatractive to the modern wealth creators of the new economy. I recently moved to Montpellier(southern France), a 400k people town, which is very attractive & dynamic. The contrast with smaller nearby towns is striking. Nimes, 140k inhabitants, has tough times to follow. Béziers, 75k inhabitants, and Lunel, 25k, are just holes that the modern economy is fleeing from

    Guess what? Montpellier is big enough to have a tram system. Design could have been better(4 lines, and none goes to the airport), but still, it works, within a bigger bus system. It is possible to live there without a car – though not easy, it’s not Paris. The near future seems to belong to megalopolises, and those ones are more hostile to car owners than smaller towns.

  2. Steven Judd January 26, 2016 at 8:55 pm #

    So would you attribute the new high in US Vehicle Miles Traveled to the economy or increases in population?

  3. Mike January 27, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

    These reports and conclusions tend to try and paint a very simplistic view of a complex situation.

    The truth, is that in most of America, transit, biking, and walking is not a viable travel option, even if one wants to rely on it. In these places, most people are driving out of necessity, including young people.

    Other studies have shown that the decline in VMT (not a really good way to measure mode shares) was really just a recession blip, and that the car has not become less popular to Americas. The important indicators, such as percent of all trips by transit, and per capita transit use use show a stagnant or still declining share for transit in most of the USA. including in cities with massive transit expansion, such as Salt Lake, Portland, and Denver.

    So we have to be very careful to think there is this huge shift in American travel habits, whether by the population at large, or by certain groups of people. Because, at the end of the day, people are not going to leave the car behind, if there are no other viable options available.

    Just from people I know in the USA, I can tell you that people I know in your average American city are not driving less or foregoing getting their license. They are driving, because they have to.

    We should also not be waiting for some demographic change to signal the rebirth of transit. Transit will become more popular, when we work to make transit a viable option for all, and stop counting on a certain group of people to save it. No one can ride the bus, when it is not running. And it is not running in most of the USA, at least at attractive levels.

    • ararar January 28, 2016 at 7:27 am #

      so how are these young people without a license getting places?