The young have always been the arbiters of cool…fewer than ever are learning to drive

young drivers

Significant changes to social-economic conditions and living circumstances are the main factors behind a marked drop in car ownership among young people in the last generation, conclude academics from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) in a study for the Department for Transport.

The researchers found a decline in home ownership and increased higher education participation were among trends that influenced the transport decisions of the young. A preference for young people to communicate online rather than face-to-face was noted an another factor.

Driving licensing among young people peaked in 1992/4, with 48 per cent of 17-20 year olds and 75 per cent of 21-29 year olds holding a driving licence. By 2014, driving licence holding had fallen to 29 per cent of 17-20 year olds and 63 per cent of 21-29 year olds. In 2010-14, only 37 per cent of 17-29 year olds reported driving a car in a typical week, whilst the figure was 46 per cent in 1995-99.

The study found that those who start to drive later, drive less when they do start. Academics added that this effect was even being seen among people who are now in their forties, and that this is not a feature solely of the ‘millennials’ but a cumulative build-up over a quarter of a century.

Dr Kiron Chatterjee, Associate Professor of Travel Behaviour at UWE Bristol, who led the study, said decreasing numbers of young people in the UK taking up motoring is the ‘new norm’ and that it was difficult to envisage a return to a car ownership boom such as the one witnessed between the 1960s and 1980s.

Is driving losing its cool?

There is little doubt that the cost of driving for the young has increased dramatically over recent years, but managing money is always about prioritising. There was a time when learning to drive and buying one’s first car was a rite of passage. Could it be that in the age of Uber not to mention environmental concern, driving is losing its cool?

The attitude of the young towards driving aligns with aims to reduce the adverse impacts of transport use, such as road danger reduction and the meeting of targets on air pollution and carbon emissions. However, the government is not currently investing enough on alternatives such as public transport and in particular, the active modes of transport that have numerous wider benefits such as improved public health.

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  1. DougMilly


    These must be national statistics. Where live, in an outer suburb of NW London, there seem to be an increasing number of Driving School cars. I hope that the following comment is not considered racist, but I observe that most of the ethnic majority in this region would rather be seen dressed as a clown than be seen walking!

  2. Peter Kinnear


    Further to HGVs– every Spring there’s a row about potholes and the cost of repairing them. Most road damage, including potholes, is caused by heavy vehicles. These heavy vehicles do not pay their full track costs– in other words, HGV traffic is subsidised. If HGVs paid their full track costs, the comparison with rail would be more even-handed; rail would be able to compete fairly and take much more freight traffic off the road system. In the short term, some commodity costs would rise,
    perhaps requiring subsidies; but at least the system would be more ‘open’, allowing allowing targeted action to deal with transport costs fairly.

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