Friday, August 3, 2012

Drove My Chevy to the Levy and Pushed it in: The Future of Cars

by Glenn Hiemstra,

Glen Hiemstra is a futurist, author, speaker, consultant, Founder of, and founder and Curator of To arrange for a speech, workshop or consultation contact

English: F.O. Stanley and his wife, Flora, dro...
F.O. Stanley and his wife, Flora, drove an automobile to the top of Mt Washington as the first humans to make the journey by car (Wikipedia)

Beware the permanent trend.

What would happen if a generation stopped driving cars, or at least stopped dreaming that owning a car and driving everywhere was their defining passage into adulthood? What if each year auto ownership and miles driven declined? It would be the end of a seemingly permanent trend toward ever more miles driven and greater car ownership.

I first began seeing signs of this emerging trend (or better, trend reversal) in 2010, as I was producing a study for the state of Idaho on the 30-year future of transportation and economic development in Idaho. In that study I noted the following, based on a 2010 article in Advertising Age:
The Millennial generation … is not only very large - larger than the Baby Boom generation - but different in an important way. They are first computer and Internet generations, having grown up since infancy with computers, 24/7 network access, cell phones, blue-tooth enabled cars, and so on. They approach most life activities differently, that is, they approach them using the network first.

One critical example for the future is recent research showing, for the first time since the advent of the automobile, a youth generation less likely to own a car, drive a car, or have a drivers license than the previous generation.

As reported in Advertising Age, “In 1978, nearly half of 16-year-olds and three-quarters of 17-year-olds in the U.S. had their driver’s licenses, according to Department of Transportation data. By 2008, the most recent year data was available, only 31% of 16-year-olds and 49% of 17-year-olds had licenses, with the decline accelerating rapidly since 1998. Of course, many states have raised the minimum age for driver’s licenses or tightened restrictions; still, the downward trend holds true for 18- and 19-year-olds as well and those in their 20s.

It’s not just new drivers driving less. The share of automobile miles driven by people aged 21 to 30 in the U.S. fell to 13.7% in 2009 from 18.3% in 2001 and 20.8% in 1995, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration’s National Household Travel Survey released earlier this year” (Advertising Age,, May 31, 2010).

This dramatic decline in driving behavior by young people occurred in a period when the percentage of the national population aged 21-30 actually increased slightly. The explanation goes well beyond restrictions on driving for 16-18 year olds, into a shift in values and behavior.

Interest in cars has waned. They have become more expensive. Interest in digital communications has sky-rocketed. Digital communication has become less expensive. Young people in 2010, and adults in 2030 may find it far easier to text, to do computer-based work, and generally to stay connected while using public transportation rather than when driving a car.

Even as legislatures around the nation ramp up bans on digital communication while driving, the desire to conduct work while commuting will continue to increase. All of these factors, combined with technology advances themselves, may make driving behavior in 2030 not at all like behavior prior to 2010.
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