Driving in America, which used to mirror economic growth, has stalled, the Associated Press reports:
After rising for decades, total vehicle use in the U.S. — the collective miles people drive — peaked in August 2007. It then dropped sharply during the Great Recession and has largely plateaued since, even though the economy is recovering and the population growing. Just this week the Federal Highway Administration reported vehicle miles traveled during the first half of 2013 were down slightly, continuing the trend.
Even more telling, the average miles drivers individually rack up peaked in July 2004 at just over 900 per month, said a study by Transportation Department economists Don Pickrell and David Pace. By July of last year, that had fallen to 820 miles per month, down about 9 percent. Per capita automobile use is now back at the same levels as in the late 1990s.
Baby boomers are aging out of their peak driving years, experts explain, and millennials aren't taking their place behind the wheel. The number of Americans in their teens, 20s and 30s with driver's licenses, let alone access to a car, has been dropping significantly.
You can basically look at anything used to characterize millennials to explain the trend. According to the mix of economists and travel behavior analysts consulted, young Americans are driving less because cars no longer symbolize freedom, as cellphones have taken their place. They're no longer synonymous with masculinity -- more women than men in the U.S. have driver's licenses. They're kind of complicated ("You can't open the hood and get to know it the way you used to"). Shopping and socializing take place more and more online, while biking and walking to work -- and even for fun -- is on the rise. Cars, not to mention insurance, maintenance, parking and gas are all really pricey, while underemployed millennials have student loans to think about.
Less driving, of course, means "less pollution, less dependence on foreign oil, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and fewer fatalities and injuries." Plus, millennials love nothing more than being nostalgic for something that was cool in the '90s.