American car culture is changing thanks to younger generations. But Gen Z and Millennials see vehicle ownership much differently.

  • The percentage of young adults with driver's licenses has decreased significantly since the 1980s.

  • Journalist Daniel Knowles argues it signifies a shift in how young people view cars.

  • He hopes it will "motivate" people to look at other transportation solutions.

The forward-thinking youths are at it again: This time, they're changing the car culture embedded in American society. Incrementally, at least.

Polls, studies, and surveys show younger generations are less likely to drive, less likely to have a driver's license, have less access to vehicles, and when they do get behind the wheel, are driving fewer miles.

Perhaps it's because of a greater awareness of the environmental and health damages of cars on the road. But Daniel Knowles, a writer for the Economist and the author of "Carmageddon: How Cars Make Life Worse and What To Do About It"— a book about how cars contribute to public health and climate crises — told Insider there are many circumstances as to why Gen Z and Millennials may be ditching their automobiles.

"Most young Americans still do have cars — more don't than used to — and the ones who do, I think it does feel more of an imposition or something you're forced to have than in the past. So I hope that's beginning to motivate people to look for change."

Getting your license at 16 is no longer the American dream

Knowles' book, a 200-page crusade against cars and a rallying cry for better public transportation, documents decades of policy decisions that made America — and the world — car-dependent.

Knowles argues, however, that cars were never the better option than robust transportation. They were only marketed as such, and he says younger generations are starting to realize they've been duped.

Statistics from the Federal Highway Administration show that in 2021, 68% of 19-year-olds had a driver's license. In comparison, 90% of 19-year-olds had their licenses in 1983. Research shows the percentage of teen drivers in the US has consistently trended downward since the 1990s.

Although there isn't a single reason attributed to this trend, reasons like a preference for alternate modes of transportation like ride-sharing and more difficult requirements to get a license could have contributed to this.

Knowles writes that the shock of how much cars cost, coupled with a desire to move to and live in dense cities that are miserable to drive in and have more public transportation, is also part of what's influencing this change.

Millennials are — eventually — becoming car people, however

However, it doesn't mean that young adults have completely staved off car buying: In 2020, Millennials bought more cars than any other demographic in the US.

"The turn away from cars is a little like the turn away from marriage and having children," Knowles writes. "People are waiting much longer to do it, but they are ultimately still doing it."

Part of this could be that millennials, motivated by high rents in cities, are moving to the suburbs — where spread-out towns mean cars are a must. Throughout his book, Knowles writes that suburban sprawl, and the prevalence of cars, go hand in hand.

It's also the cultural dominance of cars in America. Getting people, including younger generations, to envision a world with fewer cars is key, Knowles told Insider.

"That's the hardest thing is just that cultural shift and that shift in the mindset of people who are literally financially invested in their cars and struggle to see that there can be an alternative," Knowles said.

However, he told Insider that he thinks a future with fewer cars is possible.

"So many American cities have been passing laws, changing parking requirements and changing zoning so that developers can build apartments and dense housing around public transport stops," Knowles said. "And so I think I'd be more optimistic."

Read the original article on Business Insider