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Millennials Lead Nation In Driving Less, Report Finds

By Aaron Crowe

It wasn’t a difficult decision for Delanie West to start driving less.

Beyond polluting less and exercising more by riding a bike, West, 38, saves money on gas, tolls and parking, totaling about $4,000 a year. She still owns a car but her insurance costs have dropped because she’s driving less.

West, a creative director in New Jersey, commutes by bike, train, subway and walking after moving into an apartment in a “live, work, play” community with a train station one block away.

She’s not alone in driving less, according to a recent report by U.S. Pirg, a nonprofit advocacy organization, showing that Millennials — ages 16 to 34 — lead a trend in driving less during the last decade.

After six decades of steady increases in per-capita driving in the United States, Americans are driving fewer miles today than they did eight years ago and fewer per person than in 1996.

Millennials are leading the nation in driving less, driving 23% fewer miles on average in 2009 than they did in 2001 — a greater decline than any other age group. The recession was likely responsible for some of the decline, but not all, the report said.

Millennials are more likely to live in urban and walk-able neighborhoods and are more open to non-driving forms of transportation than older Americans, the report says. One example is their use of mobile technology, which allows them to stay connected and rely less on driving.

The trend of less driving is expected to continue with Baby Boomers aging out of the workforce and fewer people getting driver’s licenses.

If the trend continues for another dozen years, even at half the rate of the 2001-09 period, total vehicle travel in the U.S. could remain below the 2007 peak through at least 2040 — despite a 21% population increase, the report says.

Driving less, or not at all, is easiest in large cities where public transportation is plentiful. Dan Nainan, 32, a comedian who lives in New York, doesn’t own a car and says that being in New York helps. Nainan rarely rents a car when performing around the country and the world, preferring trains and other forms of public transit when available.

For Lynn Maleh, 25, sharing a car with her boyfriend and riding bikes on errands and other tasks is a way to appreciate moving from the East Coast to sunny Southern California.

“We both feel a certain pressure to be outside as much as we can, because we remember the long, long months of winter we grew up with,” says Maleh, who lives in Los Angeles.

They bought bikes for about $200 each from Critical Cycles, and are spending less money on gas, car insurance and car maintenance, she says.

Less driving will have huge implications for how Americans drive and policy decisions and planned expenditures for new roads should be changed to meet the lower demand, the report says.

With fewer people driving and paying less gas taxes, federal and state transportation funds will drop as gas taxes fall as much as 74% by 2040, it says. Americans will use about half as much gas and other fuels in 2040 than they use today, the report says.

“Given the magnitude of these trends and the implications for the future, we need to press the reset button on our transportation policy,” says Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and co-author of the report, in a statement.

“Public officials can’t just stay on the only course they’ve known,” Baxandall says. “They need to learn from current trends to rethink whether it’s worth building all those extra highway miles that were planned based on obsolete understanding of future driving trends.”

Along with saving money, some of the biggest benefits of driving less are getting more exercise and having less stress.

“We spend the majority of our weeks sitting at dark desks,” Maleh says. “Why would we want to spend our free time in dark car seats?”

West, who runs three businesses, says she’s more productive in her down time on a train than having to be alert and focused at the wheel of a car.

“Not driving also reduce my stress level tremendously,” West says, and has become “more alert to my surroundings, and appreciative of those experiences.”

 

Aaron Crowe is a journalist who covers the auto industry for CheapCarInsurance.net.