From a presentation on the Transportation Research Board website, a comparison of age-specific driving habits in 2001 vs. 2008:

Both data series come from the National Household Transportation Survey — the blue from 2001, the red from 2008.  Among older folks, driving didn’t change that much between the two studies. But among younger Americans, driving habits changed radically: folks between the ages of 20 and 40 drove far less in 2008 than their counterparts did in 2001.

This is perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence I’ve seen suggesting that there’s been a profound generational shift in America’s driving habits.

  • That doesn’t exhaust the analysis, of course. Some portion of this trend may be simple economics: the recession of 2008 may have hit younger folks a bit harder than the recession of 2001. (The fact that both surveys were taken in the midst of a recession was just pure dumb luck.) And there are still all sorts of questions about what’s at the root of this trend: is it young folks substituting life online for life behind the wheel?  Environmental concerns dampening their enthusiasm for cars? More young people choosing to live car-lite city lifestyles? I’m sure there are dozens of theories out there, and probably many that have a grain of truth.

    And then there’s the anomaly of 50-54 year olds, who looked more like 30-somethings than 50 or 60 year olds. Is that just a data glitch, or a real trend?

    Regardless, the evidence is pretty compelling for a broad generational shift:  on average, folks under 40 are driving less than their counterparts from previous years. And if that trend keeps up, it will mean less and less driving per capita, as today’s low-mileage 20- and 30-somethings hit their peak driving years.

    (Hat tip to Tony Dutzik from the Frontier Group.)