Forget Cars, Millennials Don't Even Want Driver's Licenses

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CARS.COM — Is the millennial generation’s license to drive taking a backseat to its license to chill? It appears so, judging by a new University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study. It shows a steep decline in licensed drivers among younger people who increasingly prefer to live in urban areas and leave the driving to Uber or public transit.

Related: First Time Buyers: Why Millennials Will Need a Car

The open road and a set of wheels once symbolized freedom, but in today’s era of convenient, smartphone-based ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft that romantic notion seems increasingly quaint. Generally speaking, the younger you are (down to the legal driving age, of course), the less likely you are to have a driver’s license compared with the same age group three decades ago.

The study, conducted by institute researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle using Federal Highway Administration data, shows that 16-year-olds’ eagerness to drive plummeted in the period examined, from 1983 to 2014. About 46 percent of American teens in 1983 became licensed drivers sometime in the year after their 16th birthday compared with about a quarter in 2014, a drop of nearly half. The latest study found that the decline in the percentage of licensed 16-year-olds observed in earlier studies — to about 31 percent in 2008 and about 28 percent in 2011 — has continued.

In fact, all the age groups up to age 44 showed continuous declines over the 31-year period, with the exception of a slight uptick in licensed 25- to 29-year-olds from 2008 to 2011. Since 1983, the share of 17-year-olds with licenses has dipped by nearly 35 percent, 18-year-olds by more than a quarter, 19-year-olds by 21 percent and 20- to 24-year-olds by more than 16 percent. Despite that one-time blip for 25- to 29-year-olds, the age group’s percentage with licenses still dipped by 11 percent for the entire period, followed by 30- to 34-year-olds by 10.3 percent, 35- to 39-year-olds by more than 7 percent and 40- to 44-year-olds by more than 3 percent.

Unlike the age ranges associated with the “millennial” badge, groups ages 45 and older showed smaller declines — or even gains. For example, 92.1 percent of 60- to 64-year-olds are licensed to drive, the highest percentage of any age group measured, and that percentage grew 9.9 percent from 1983 to 2014.

Percentage increases for that period actually occurred for all Americans in age groups 55 or older, with the greatest spike — nearly 44 percent — for those ages 70 and up. That oldest group also was the only age group to show a gain from 2008 to 2014, up 0.8 percent. But even they turned the corner from 2011 to 2014, dipping by 0.3 percent to an overall percentage of 79 percent.

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