Americans are dumping their cars

More people are relying on public transportation in a time of high gas prices, and young adults in particular don't really want a set of wheels.

By Bruce Kennedy Feb 5, 2013 8:07AM
Image: Frustrated woman driving car -- Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty ImagesIt may be hard to believe, especially if your commute involves a daily trial-by-traffic jam, but there indications that many Americans are driving less.

Business Insider recently looked at some very informative graphs on this topic. One from the Department of Transportation shows the number of U.S. vehicle miles driven, which had been rising steadily since the 1970s, declined at the start of the recession in 2008 and has remained flat ever since. Another graph, from the traffic information service Inrix, notes average commute times during peak hours have also been dropping steadily as gas prices rise.

Some of these trends in our driving habits may reflect a changing economy. The recession certainly prompted many cash-strapped drivers to economize and cut back on unnecessary trips.

But a study done last spring by the Frontier Group and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (.pdf download) found that Americans have been driving less since the start of the new millennium, well before the recession -- and that the average American was driving 6% less per year in 2011 compared with 2004.

New technologies also have us driving less. Why risk a traffic delay en route to an office meeting when everyone can teleconference? And if you can shop online, you can probably give up an extra trip or two to local mall.

Another factor is people ages 16 to 34, who the study says are driving less than previous generations and more readily adopting non-car transportation alternatives.

The Urban Land Institute reports that many younger Americans are opting go without a car in exchange for living in smaller homes near public transportation and in communities that have amenities like shops and restaurants within walking distance. For many young adults, according to the ULI's annual report, "affordable mass transit beats the hassle and expense of owning a car (not just loan payments, insurance, repairs, gas, but also parking). Others rent when they need to drive, using shared cars."

Many researchers, in fact, "are seeing the young with no interest in cars and driving," Alan Pisarski, a transportation and traffic trends analyst, told Business Insider, "at the same time that joblessness among the young is colossal -- not to mention their parents' joblessness -- or their college loans."

And with more older drivers handing in their car keys, public transportation becoming faster and more reliable, more people living in urban areas and gas prices remaining high, some observers wonder whether driving in developed nations has reached a saturation point.

The concept of what The Economist calls "peak car" is far from certain. And the magazine acknowledges that there's a good chance economic recovery will put more people back in driver's seats -- especially in developing nations where car sales are booming.

But it notes that countries like China, which has the world's biggest car market, might hit the "sprawl wall" sooner than developed nations did and find gridlock and poor air quality not worth the trade-off.

More on moneyNOW

78Comments
Feb 5, 2013 2:33PM
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I love my cars, but I'd also like to use them less.  I hope to someday be in a position where I can cycle or walk to work and just save the car for fun.  I'd be able to have a nicer car due to all the money saved from maintenance/replacement needed from the daily drive (besides wear, keeping it out of the salt could allow me to keep the same car for the rest of my life instead of having to replace it when the frame rusts out!).
Feb 5, 2013 2:24PM
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Has US reached peak car? What? Huh? In what language?

Has MSN reached peak bad headline?
Feb 5, 2013 2:19PM
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tHIS ARTICLE PAINTS A ROSY PICTURE OF mODERN aMERICANS  TURNING TO "PUBLIC TRANSIT", INSTEAD OF OWNING A CAR. THIS STORY IS TOO FAR-FETCHED TO BELIEVE IT. MANY AREAS OF THE USA, WHICH ARE  AWAY FROM THE EASTERN SEABOARD OR WESTERN COAST, WHERE MASS TRANSIT IS AVAILABLE, HAVE TO RELY ON POOR LOCAL BUS SYSTEMS WHICH HAVE LIMITED DAILY SCHEDULES OR RUN EVRY OTHER DAY.   AMTRAK IN THE MIDWEST CORRIDOR IS QUITE LIMITED AND THE TRACKS AND THE SERVICE ARE POOR QUALITY.   I LIVE IN NORTHERN MICHIGAN WHERE THE MASS TRANSIT SERVICES ARE PPOR, AND THE RAILS HAVE BEEN ABANDONED FOR MANY YEARS AND TURNED INTO "RAILS TO TRAILS " RECREATIONAL PATHWAYS. WE ONLY HAVE INDIAN TRAILS BUS SERVICE TO TAKE US TO LARGER CONNECTING CITIES LIKE GRAND RAPIDS OR TRAVERSE CITY,  WHICH CONNECT TO CHICAGO OR DETROIT.

THE USA HAS NOT SPENT TIME , ENERGY , OR CAPITAL,  TO DEVELOP A REAL MASS TRANSIT SYSTEM, SUCH AS WE FIND IN MODERN EUROPE. THE USA IS STILL LIVING IN THE 20TH CENTURY, NOT THE 21ST .

OUR POLITICIANS NEED TO LISTEN TO THE "OTHER CITIZENS" RATHER THAN GO ON THINKING ALL IS GOOD WITH OUR SYSTEM, AND WE DO NOT NEED TO IMPROVE IT. SORRY TO RAMBLE ON THIS ON AND ON, BUT IT IS SOMETHING I AM REALLY ANGRY ABOUT IN THIS GREAT COUNTRY OF OURS.

Feb 5, 2013 2:07PM
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After a certain age, most give up their second car. As people age after retirement, their world gets progressively smaller so a second car that was so necessary earlier becomes an unnecessary expense and nuisance when lifestyle changes must be made due to reduced income. Even though it may seem impossible earlier in life, simplifying one's life in this way can be very satisfying and  rewarding.
Feb 5, 2013 2:01PM
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Where I live the car is a need, not a want. This point of  needing a car always been true in rural areas of America. I'm driving much less due to gas prices and many I know are doing the same. This is why Americans are driving less because no one can really afford it.

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Old people are too stupid and lazy to do without a car.  The next generation has the right idea.
Feb 5, 2013 2:00PM
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If that's true, why does gasoline keep going up and up? In less than a week where I live, the price has jumped 25 cents a gallon! We need to find a way to keep speculators out of commodities markets.
Feb 5, 2013 1:17PM
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Public transportation is all good if we could figure out away to make it work without costing tax payers millions ( these places operate at huge losses to the tax payer). Once again I am paying for poor people to move around in LA. Want to live in a guaranteed good neighborhood? Buy where no public transportation goes. 
Feb 5, 2013 1:13PM
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More and more scooters on the road. It's about survival in an economy in denial. We keep hearing how things are getting so much better, but the true numbers don't support the media hype.
Feb 5, 2013 1:09PM
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VINCENZO DIESEL{1 STINVESTMENT} :You have a right to your wrong opinions and

by law your gay lifestyle should be free.

Feb 5, 2013 12:58PM
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Another trend making vehicular travel more expensive and less attractive is the nationwide increase in Toll Roads and fees. Those of us unfortunate enough to have commutes and/or recreational outings subject to another 20% or more increase in travel costs due to tolls is very discouraging. 
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Obamas plan to bring people (And money) back into the city has been taking shape. This is further eviddence of what he wants. Hardcore Socialists like him do not likethe  Suburbs or that lifestyle. People who live away from the city tend to be independant and don't lean heavily on Government services.

 

Feb 5, 2013 11:57AM
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In what alternate world does teenagers don't want autos?????????????????????
Feb 5, 2013 11:56AM
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Both of my parents commuted from the Jersey shore into NYC for work, after graduating from college and doing the same thing for the summer after graduating I realized i was not a commuter, so i moved to Manhattan. So afterward my job moved me to Boston, where I lived in Newton, which was a short commute from downtown Boston. I soon got another job this time in Stamford CT, where I lived and loved the ability to walk to work. Job moved and I went with it to Hartford, where it was great to continue to have the ability to either ride my bike, walk, or use the public bus system.

It's not only that fewer people are working it's that a lot of us hate a long commute whether it by public transportation  or driving, it's not only the cost but the time, and for many people the reason to have a car was to commute to work. People now want to live near work, shopping and entertainment.

Feb 5, 2013 11:14AM
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You meet the nicest people on city buses.
Feb 5, 2013 11:00AM
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Public transporation is well and good...if you can get to your job, groceries, etc, but that's not the case in most instances. The long commutes many people drive to work are not worth that home in the suburbs any more. Some travel from county to county great distances in metropolitan areas..a few areas put a tax on this sort of commute. Our major cities are not public transportation "friendly", and they should be..but guess who pays. A return to neighborhood areas with groceries, job opportunities, and other venues close by would be nice, but probably not practical for this society at this time.
Feb 5, 2013 10:46AM
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let's see:  a recession, high price of gas, few jobs much less jobs that pay well.  no WONDER we see fewer miles driven!  add the ability to buy online, and stream entertainment on line rather than hit the movie theater. 

 

smart people - especially starting out - will positon themselves in homes closer to where they work and walk more. 

 

 

Feb 5, 2013 9:46AM
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It's just too damn expensive, especially for multiple cars.  The cost of the vehicle, fuel, maintenance and especially insurance (in some areas) has just gotten beyond people of modest means.  The unfortunate thing is that we have never built our public transportation system adequately and so many are trapped into a situation where they MUST have a car.  It's just plain crappy management and lack of long-term policy about energy and transportation.  Everything was OK when our income was high relative to auto and fuel costs, but that is now reversing, and it was entirely predictable if we had been managing our resources for the long term.  Shame on us.
Feb 5, 2013 9:26AM
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Declined when Obama took office - will continue while he's still in office - no surprise here....
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With fewer people working now than when Obama took office in 2009 it only makes sense there are fewer people commuting to work each day.  I can see this "Change" as I drive to work each morning and "Hope" I can keep my job a bit longer.  Driving has become a financial hassle what with cash strapped states wringing every dime from drivers that they can.  I have a trailer that I use a couple of times each year and New York wants more than $100 to register it.  The tax man commeth in many and various ways.... ie check your next health insurance bill.
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