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Study reveals reasons for drop in car ownership among young people

Lower-paid and less secure jobs, a decline in home ownership and rise in university places were behind a drop in the numbers owning a car, the study concluded

Sweeping changes to social-economic conditions and living circumstances are the main factors behind a marked drop in car ownership among young people over the past 25 years, a study suggests.

Academics found the rise in lower paid and less secure jobs, a decline in home ownership and increased higher education participation were among the trends to have influenced the transport decisions of people aged between 17 and 29 since 1990.

Growing urbanisation, the high cost of driving and a preference for young people to communicate online – rather than face to face – are other contributory factors.

Driving licensing among young people peaked between 1992 and 1994, with 48% of 17 to 20-year-olds and 75% of 21 to 29-year-olds holding a driving licence.

By 2014, driving licence holding had fallen to 29% of 17 to 20-year-olds and 63% of 21 to 29-year-olds.

Between 2010 and 2014, only 37% of 17 to 29-year-olds reported driving a car in a typical week whilst the figure was 46% between 1995 and 1999.

With some variation from year to year, researchers say the general trend has been for each cohort of young people since the early 1990s to own and use cars less than the preceding cohort, and for the growth in car use with age to also be at a lower rate.

The study, which was carried by the University of the West of England (UWE) and the University of Oxford for the Department for Transport, found those who start to drive later drive less when they do start.

The academics added this effect was even seen among people now in their 40s and that this is not a feature solely of the “millennials” but a cumulative build-up over a quarter of a century.

Study leader Dr Kiron Chatterjee, associate professor of travel behaviour at UWE Bristol, said decreasing numbers of young people in the UK taking up motoring is the “new norm” and it is “difficult to envisage” a return to a car ownership boom such as the one witnessed between the 1960s and 1980s.

“It is, therefore, important that policies in transport and other sectors reflect the fall in the proportion of young people with a driving licence or access to a car,” he said.

“While the change in young people’s travel behaviour is to be welcomed in that it aligns with aims to reduce the adverse impacts of transport use, such as air pollution and carbon emissions, it is important that young people have alternatives to the car for getting to education, employment and social destinations.

“Otherwise there could be damaging impacts on their life opportunities and well-being.”

Simon Williams, from the RAC, said many young people cannot to afford to drive a car.

“While this trend may indicate that younger people are mirroring the way society and technology is moving with greater concern about the environment, vehicle emissions and a future with driverless cars, it also reflects the fact that many adults today have worse income prospects than their parents,” he said.

“We believe this is less about young people turning their backs on the car and more about them not being able to afford to drive.

“The cost of lessons and the number required to reach the necessary skill level to take the test has presumably played a part in this.

“Then there is cost of buying and running a car as well as the cost of insurance which for young drivers is now become prohibitively expensive.”

AA president Edmund King said: “We know from our own driving school that learning to drive is still seen as a rite of passage for many young people, but that the cost of insurance, in particular, can be a barrier to young people’s driving aspirations.

“Being able to drive brings independence and improves employability and it is a shame if fewer young people are enjoying these benefits than previous generations.”

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