Seeing the back of the Automobile Age

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Can this really be true? That young people in the global north are falling out of love with the automobile?

The Economist (paywall) has said it discerns a change, most significantly in America, “the country most shaped by the car”. In 1997, 43 per cent of 16-year-olds in the United States had driving licences, but in 2020, the most recent year for which figures are available, the number had fallen to just 25 per cent. More to the point, says the newspaper, “One in five Americans aged between 20 and 24 does not have a licence, up from just one in 12 in 1983. The proportion of people with licences has fallen for every age group under 40, and on the latest data, is still falling. And even those who do have them are driving less. Between 1990 and 2017 the distance driven by teenage drivers in America declined by 35 per cent and those aged 20-34 by 18 per cent.”

The same sort of trend is visible, the piece says, in Britain, in most European Union (EU) member states (except for newer ones such as Poland) and especially so in big European cities such as Berlin, Copenhagen, London, Paris and Vienna.

There are a basket of reasons for the falling popularity of cars, it suggested, not least the rise of online shopping, home film streaming, precarious employment (so, less money), longer spells in education, taxi apps such as Uber and Lyft, higher insurance premiums for young drivers and then, a cultural reason: worries about climate change.

If so, this will be one of the first clear indicators of the growing force and momentum of climate change as an argument for changing the metric of entitlement in the rich world. As well as a profound remaking of the city, with roads being reclaimed from cars. More on that next.

Also read:

The car has had a good run from the first ‘horseless carriage’ to the Automobile Age

Come one, come all, prepare for the end of the Automobile Age