The modern automobile is becoming more and more adaptive to technology with each passing year. While electric vehicles and nifty smartphone integration soup up the roads today, future vehicles could use tech to reduce traffic, improve headlights, navigate more easily, and someday drive themselves.
It’s an exciting future for the car, to be sure, but there appears to be just one problem: There won’t be as many people left who are willing to use them.
According to a recent study from U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund, the recent, now eight-year decline in the number of miles driven by Americans will continue far into the foreseeable future.
The report says that the total number of miles driven by Americans and the miles driven per capita peaked in 2007 and 2004, respectively, and that, under some scenarios, the U.S. won’t reach those figures again for decades. It finds that the average American today “drives no more miles than at the end of President Clinton’s first term” in 1997.
Millenials and younger adults are the leading causes of the decline, according to the report, as they are said to be “more open” to alternative means of transportation and generally prefer living in urban and walking-friendly environments. U.S. PIRG says that Americans between the ages of 16 and 34 drove 23 percent less in 2009 than their counterparts did in 2001.
“The Driving Boom is over,” said U.S. PIRG’s Phineas Baxandall, who co-authored the report. By that, he refers to the long period during which Americans’ usage of cars continuously increased. U.S. PIRG says was largely brought about by lower gas prices, Baby Boomers’ tendency to live in suburbs, and the fact that more women entered the regularly commuting workforce at the time. Now that those trends are either reversed or nonfactors today, Millenials aren’t getting behind the wheel as much.
U.S. PIRG says that this trend will naturally lead to a range of changes to how Americans travel if it continues. For one, citizens will be using less gasoline, which means that the value of gas could fall as much 74 percent from where it is now under certain conditions. The report also notes how traffic congestion and revenue derived from toll roads will be lessened, and says that governments will be inclined to invest more in things like public transit systems and less in highway expansion projects.
As for today, Baxandall and company advise the U.S. government to adjust its forecasts of future vehicle travel, and not invest as much into highway expansion efforts, to better reflect U.S. PIRG’s findings.
“America’s transportation leaders need to wake up to the momentous changes that have taken place over the last decade,” said Baxandall. “The infrastructure we build today will mainly be used and paid for by the Millennials who are leading the trend away from driving.”
Either way, the trend would also stand to affect the recent focus on improved technology in vehicles down the road. With less people using cars, it could mean less technologies investing in car-enhancing features.
At the same time, though, more substantial innovations like self-driving technology could make driving attractive again to younger generations by fundamentally altering the experience. Time will tell how car tech companies respond to these changing trends, but as it stands now, America’s love affair with the automobile doesn’t appear to be as widespread as it used to be.
Source: U.S. PIRG