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Generational disruption: young people losing interest in driving

Posting in Technology

Personal technology seems to interest young people more than driving. That's a huge values shift from just a couple of decades ago.

Throughout the past century, one of the rites of passage into adulthood -- perhaps the only rite of passage that mattered for many, especially in the United States -- was starting to drive. The rites and rituals of the dominant teenage car culture has been captured in many classic movies -- from Rebel Without a Cause to American Graffiti to Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Lately, though, when it comes to driving, the teenage response seems to be, well, "whatever."

As long as it doesn't take too much time away from their mobile devices and social networking.

“Some young people feel that driving interferes with texting and other electronic communication,” says Michael Sivak, research professor at the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). UMTRI recently released data that shows a lower proportion of young people have a driver’s license today compared to their counterparts in the early 1980s — a trend not found among older age groups.

“It is possible that the availability of virtual contact through electronic means reduces the need for actual contact among young people,” says Sivak.

About 87% of 19-year-olds in 1983 had their licenses, but 25 years later, that percentage had dropped to about 75%. Other teen driving groups also have declined: 18-year-olds fell from 80 percent in 1983 to 65% in 2008, 17-year-olds decreased from 69% to 50%, and 16-year-olds slipped from 46% to 31%.

Perhaps if Ferris Bueller's Day Off were filmed today, Cameron would be brooding about wrecking his father's iPhone.  Just a thought.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure