| NEW YORK
NEW YORK May 14 Americans are driving less than
they used to because of higher gasoline prices, a weak economy
and changing generational preferences, according to a report
released Tuesday that found a sixty-year "driving boom" had hit
The report, by advocacy organizations the U.S. Public
Interest Research Group and Frontier Group, said transportation
policymakers and existing plans to expand the nation's roads and
highways have not taken the decline into account.
The researchers said car use is likely to decline further as
members of the Millennial generation, now in their teens to
early 30s, move into cities and rely more on public
transportation, while car-loving baby boomers age out of their
"peak driving" years.
People aged 16 to 34 racked up 23 percent less mileage in
2009 than in 2001, the study said, demonstrating a greater
decline in driving than for any other age group.
"This is a new direction - a real break, a real change, the
study's co-author, Phineas Baxandall, an analyst at the U.S.
PIRG, said in a briefing on Tuesday. "After 2004, on per capita
basis, driving has gone down, and the number of vehicle-miles
driven has also gone down each year since 2004."
This trend is reflected in vehicle ownership, which has
decreased by 4 percent between the all-time high of 1.24
vehicles per driver in 2006 and now.
The percentage of driving-age Americans with licenses also
fell to a 30-year low of 86 percent in 2011 from an all-time
high of 90 percent in 1992.
Meanwhile, the average inflation-adjusted price of gasoline
doubled between 2002 and 2011. In the short term, the study
said, higher fuel prices may lead people to skip long road trips
or vacations; in the longer run, sticker shock at the gas
station could encourage people to lower or avoid the expense of
driving by living closer to work or buying more efficient cars.
The researchers said federal and certain state governments
have nevertheless continued to allocate funds to large highway
expansion projects based on "obsolete" forecasts "based on
assumptions forged during the driving boom," said co-author Tony
Dutzik, a policy analyst at the Frontier Group.
"We invest tens of billions of dollars in our transportation
systems so it's important that we're doing so with a clear
understanding of what we know and don't know about the future,"
The study noted that "the number of miles driven in the
heaviest trucks has actually declined faster than overall
vehicle travel in recent years, falling by 11 percent between
2007 and 2011." It said there was "little evidence thus far for
the proposition that reductions in household driving must
coincide with an increase in heavy-duty truck traffic."
Sean McAlinden, chief economist and vice president for
research at the Michigan-based non-profit Center for Automotive
Research, dismissed the report's findings.
"Younger buyers under 30 are listing financial problems as
their reason for not buying new cars," McAlinden said. "If and
when the economy recovers, will buy cars at the
same rate as other generations."
The reported declines in driving coincide with weakness in
the U.S. economy, which emerged from a brutal recession in June
2009 and was still in tepid recovery in 2011. However, driving
did not pick up in line with the recovery, Dutzik said.
"That suggests that the recovery of the economy might not
necessarily lead to the kinds of increases in driving that we
saw in past decades."
The study noted that cycling, walking, light rail and other
alternative methods of transportation have gained popularity in
recent years: In 2011, Americans took nearly 10 percent more
trips via public transportation than they had in 2005.
Young Americans in their late teens and 20's are less
enthralled with the automobile than prior generations and are
seen as regarding high-tech devices, including tablet computers
and smartphones, as more important status symbols than cars.
That has led major automakers, including General Motors Co.
, Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. to
rework their lineups with different body styles and more
tech-savvy features aimed drawing young Americans' interest.