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Why aren’t teens interested in driving?

October 13, 2014

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The number of teens getting their licenses at age 16 is at one of its lowest points ever. But, you’d think that the sons and daughters of the men and women who work in the auto industry would buck the trend.

That’s not the case, as I found out last week. I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the Southern Automotive Conference. For three days, 750 attendees looked at some of the pressing issues facing the automobile industry, especially across the South, home to the country’s newest assembly plants.

My talk looked at the idea that Americans now see transportation as a portfolio, not just a single-minded reliance on the automobile. It’s the subject of my recent Forbes eBook, Curbing Cars: America’s Independence From The Auto Industry.

Of course, cars aren’t going away any time soon, but as I said in my talk, people have a number of choices, such as Zipcar, the hourly car rental company; Uber, the app-based taxi service; public transportation, which is booming in many parts of the country, plus bicycling and walking.

I told the group about research into the preferences of millennials, who someday will replace the baby boomers as the biggest car-buying audience. That hasn’t happened yet, though. Many young people born after 1980 are facing big student loans, and they’re in a hotly competitive job market.

Based on the conversations I had with these automotive leaders, their kids are in the same boat as their peers. Over and over during the conference, car company executives and suppliers drew me aside to share perplexed stories about their teens’ disinterest in getting their licenses.

Each year, Zipcar publishes a study tracking millennials’ attitudes. This year’s version that shows millennials rank their mobile devices as among their most prized possessions. Many say they can live without a car, but they couldn’t get along without their phone.

My theory is that technology has replaced the hangouts we had to drive to. You needn’t meet your friends at the mall or even Starbucks, when all you have to do is text them, Skype them or get on Facetime. Gatherings are now special times, rather than routine. Otherwise, people prefer to stay put.

Are you seeing this trend in your town? If so, here are some ways to follow up.


Zipcar’s annual millennials study

Teen driving data and tips from AAA  (you can set it for your state)

Driving statistics for young drivers


  • Micheline Maynard

    Micheline is a contributing columnist at the Washington Post concentrating on business and culture. She has written about flooding in Detroit, tainted water in Benton Harbor, nationwide shortages of restaurant staff, and vaccine hesitancy.

    View all posts

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