Published March 30, 2012
By Jeff Cobb
Studies have found that Internet service providers around the globe are effectively taking would-be young drivers off the road, and business away from departments of transportation.
What on earth are we talking about?
In plain speak, researchers in a number of developed countries – including recently those from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute – have found young adults prefer to surf the Web, rather than cruise in automobiles.
Among U.S. drivers in their 20s, the Michigan researchers found 94 percent had a driver’s license in 1983, but 25 years later in 2008, that figure had decreased to 84 percent in their 20s with licenses.
Researchers also found that in 1983 one-third of all licensed U.S. drivers were under age 30, but today that has diminished to 22 percent of all licensed drivers are under age 30.
Nor is the U.S. an anomaly. A similar phenomenon has been discovered by other researchers in Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Norway and South Korea, reported Automotive News.
These developed nations had the same decrease in young drivers, while seeing an increase in older drivers.
"Countries with higher proportions of Internet users were associated with lower licensure rates among young persons," said the University of Michigan’s head of human factors group, Michael Sivak. And, he said, this is “consistent with the hypothesis that access to virtual contact through electronic means reduces the need for actual contact among young people."
A senior analyst for Detroit-area research firm HIS Automotive, Rebecca Lindland, also noted younger people are less inclined to get a driver’s license, and this is in part reflective of how they – unlike generations before them – interact with their friends.
In short, they have access to a virtual world, and need not opt for the real world which requires traveling to go see people.
"In every other generation, kids had to leave the house to see their friends and now you can do all that online," she said. "A car is no longer required."
Lindland optimistically observed that as young adults age, they may change their habits, but even then how they perceive vehicles will be different from those raised prior to the Internet.
"It's the first time we've seen that and that's why it's a little bit alarming," said Lindland.
Previously industry watchers have noted even those from among the age 19-31 "millennial" generation that do drive are demanding more and more connectivity in their vehicles. One finding said they’d pay up to $2,000 more for a car with connectivity features.
So, even if they do have to leave their computers at home, many younger consumers insist on having at least the same access in their vehicles.
But too much interaction with infotainment, etc., also has safety officials holding annual summits over “ distracted driving.”
Many millennial-aged drivers already have this covered however. Survey respondents have also said they are aware of the dangers of multitasking at the wheel, and have said among the advanced features they want in cars are safety technologies to protect them from themselves and these, they said would also be worth spending extra for.
Lindland observed several other variable have yet to play out regarding other pervasively influential factors such as as future vehicle choices, modes of travel, safety and environmental impact.
At this point, it appears the Internet has effectively shifted the world’s young adults into a fundamentally new sensibility, observers note, and unprecedented changes in transportation will take place as priorities have shifted with the advent of an increasingly connected age.