The other camp acknowledges that economic factors are important but says the decline in driving also reflects fundamental changes in the way Americans view the automobile. For commuters stuck in traffic, getting into a car no longer correlates with fun. It’s also becoming more of a headache to own a car in central cities and downright difficult to park.
“The idea that the car means freedom, I think, is over,” said travel behavior analyst Nancy McGuckin.
Gone are the days of the car culture as immortalized in songs like “Hot Rod Lincoln,” ‘‘Little Deuce Coupe” and “Pink Cadillac.”
“The car as a fetish of masculinity is probably over for certain age groups,” McGuckin said. “I don’t think young men care as much about the car they drive as they use to.”
That’s partly because cars have morphed into computers on wheels that few people dare tinker with, she said. “You can’t open the hood and get to know it the way you used to,” she said.
Lifestyles are also changing. People are doing more of their shopping online. More people are taking public transit than ever before. And biking and walking to work and for recreation are on the rise.
Social networking online may also be substituting for some trips. A study by University of Michigan transportation researcher Michael Sivak found that the decline in teens and young adults with driver’s licenses in the U.S. was mirrored in other wealthy countries with a high proportion of Internet users.
Demographic changes are also a factor. The peak driving years for most people are between ages 45 and 55 when they are the height of their careers and have more money to spend, said transportation analyst Alan Pisarski, author of “Commuting in America.” Now, the last of the baby boomers — the giant cohort born between 1946 and 1964 — are moving out of their peak driving years.