The death of driving has been greatly exaggerated, suggests new study

For some time now, enthusiasts and automotive industry observers alike have bemoaned the notion that young people, particularly Millennials (1981–1996), were not embracing driving the way previous generations of Americans had. The Millennial generation came to maturity at a time when mobility alternatives to privately owned and operated automobiles, like ride sharing and e-scooters, were heavily promoted, and alongside their concerns with environmental awareness, it’s easy to get the impression young adults don’t like cars or driving as much as previous generations have.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2020/01/14/death-of-driving-greatly-exaggerated-suggests-new-study

One of the issues is the inconsistency in defining generations. Some say Gen X is 65-76, and Y is 77 - 96 or 81-96 or 84-96 depending on your source. Gen Z is 97-??? and the Millennials label gets applied to Gen Y and/or a combination of Y & Z. --so it kind of depends what definition a study is using?

Cost of entry into driving seems like it ballooned in the 90s, and most younger people are in urban areas where driving oneself isn’t necessarily a priority. Most of the student cars in the parking lot at my high school in the 1990s were the country kids.

At some point though… driving becomes a true need for most people, and some discover the joy of it. I have been saying for some time that people under 45 are still a ripe ground for enthusiasts just don’t expect them to be into 64 Buicks (picked that as I happen to like them).

I’ve also been saying for years that these studies don’t ask Millennials if they like cars, because most of us do. Even my bicycle riding, D&D playing hipster friends still lust over street vans and custom scooters. For a lot of us, it’s just not possible to pay for housing when rent averages $1400 in a medium sized city, have $40k+ in student debt, have to pay bills and then have an expensive hobby like being a car enthusiast.

@pepperalls I’ve described the generations as this:
Gen X: Grew up in the 70s/80s (came of age in the 90s)
Millennial: Grew up in the 80s/90s (came of age in the 2000s)
Gen Z: Grew up in the 90s/2000s (came of age in 2010s)

What are they driving?
I suspect there’s the sort of driving-as-fun that car hobbyists and enthusiasts discuss, which is different from the driving-as-necessity that long distance commuters experience.
They both require licenses, but are different activities.
The ongoing dominant trend in the industry continues to be car-as-appliance, and not as something just for fun.

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It is way too appliance. I get it, I have bought several of my vehicles solely on practical considerations.

But… there was also no tempting fun options at a reasonable price. If VW Beetles had cost twice an Impala they never would have sold.

I’m at the point in my career/life that I could commit to the financing for a higher-spec Mustang or Challenger if I really wanted to. I don’t think high-school or college me teleported ahead to today could afford a 5 year old Yaris let alone anything new --and without throwing shade on the Yaris, they aren’t an aspirational vehicle to many.

Someone teach them to use turn signals…please, please, please…

They should break it down into percent capable of driving a stick… just trying to determine if my vintage BMWs are still “Millennial Proof”.

Agreed—some time in the early ‘90s when marketers and journalists were trying to name the next generation, they screwed it all up. It’s really simple, and not even a matter of debate, though it’s probably too late now to fix it. Generations got their first label with the Baby Boomers, that post-war surge of babies:

1946-1964 Baby Boomers
1965-1983 Generation X
1984-2002 Generation Y
2003-2021 Generation Z

Some people label Gen Y as Millennials because that group was coming of age around the millennium. Other say Gen Z because that group was born around the millennium. Then people started screwing up dates to fit their own needs. But you can’t change the dates—you can’t make one generation longer or shorter than another, or they can’t be properly compared. And since the generation range was already defined with Boomers, it’s just a matter of math from there (and fighting about the names :joy:).

What dot you know? As soon as they leave the communist indoctrination camps (where their helicopter parents sent them to get an “education”) and start living in the real world they quickly realize that some of their stupid ideas are incompatible with a successful future. That driving a car is not only a necessity but it can also be an expression of freedom and a source of pleasure. Now, if we can get the men to do manly things like doing their own oil changes, changing a flat tire, etc…instead of playing video games and wasting money on e-girls…

My issue is that far fewer of today’s drivers are enthusiasts than they used to be. They see driving a car as a chore and a necessity, not as something fun. That has been going on for a long time. The fact that most later model cars are front wheel drive four door automatic transmission transportation appliances proves that. Then there are four door trucks, Jeeps, and minivans. But almost no vehicles suitable for a driving enthusiast. And it is getting worse as manufacturers add more and more technology to these vehicles that take away control of the vehicle from the driver. And perhaps worst of all is the advent of short range absolutely devoid of any kind of driving sensation battery powered vehicles. And it continues to get worse.

Video games are a solid source of car enthusiasm, Nissan GTR likely still exists (in its long-running form) because of this and is a solid bet to be (even more) highly sought after in 15-25 years when the video game couch potatoes have money for collector vehicles.

Video games are also one of your best routes to getting stick shift to still be an option on something in 10 years --manual mode generally equates with “hard mode” in most video games and this creates buzz/appreciation.

You’ll lose a lot of people with the manly things comment. My daughter is going to learn how to change a tire (still working on words and walking at the moment).

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I generally agree with you. But we are all part of that problem unless you bought a Miata to grocery get, 2 door Wrangler to commute, etc.

When it got to the point the sports-car only brands had to chase $ with crossover/SUV it basically said no one is compromising practicality for pure joy.

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The definition of Baby Boom Generation keeps expanding. Originally it meant someone born in the immediate postwar period, when the GIs were coming home and marrying their sweethearts (i.e. - children born from March 1946 to about 1949). Going by the original definition someone born in 1952 would not be a baby boomer. But now the Baby Boomer label has been extended to 1964, which is ridiculous - in 1964 Boomers were graduating high school and having children of their own. A better way to categorize the generations would be by the music they listened to - the Dowap generation, the Beatles generation, the Kurt Kobain generation, the Madonna generation, etc. .

Except that I didn’t listen to any of those. (1959 - Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, later: Van Halen.)
I think the issue with Boomers is that although it started with GI’s coming back from WWII, the “boom” lasted until about ‘64. So that’s why the label continued.
I can say that anyone that grew up in the 50’s has different car taste than I do. I started driving in 77, but my tastes developed during the horsepower wars of the 60’s. GTO’s, Chevelles , Mustangs, Vettes, Roadrunners. These were what the older kids were driving (and a few of my crazier uncles).
Comparing to the stuff kids are growing up with these days, it’s no wonder so many drive lowered Honda’s with coffee-can mufflers. But to extend that to say driving enthusiasts have gone away ignores prime tire smoking marvels like the current Z28 or Hellcat. Cars that embarrass anything but the most pumped versions of the horsepower wars. Biggest issue is that few kids can buy those.
My kid owns a 2003 bmw. But we’ve done brakes, tires, electric fan, complete light swap… the kid isn’t afraid to turn a wrench!

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There is certainly a perception that the boomer generation hit there 20s, got a spouse, house, 2 cars and kids if they wanted them and could afford it all on one salary.

It might be a good Hagerty article to expose some of the myth vs. reality there. 1950s was the rise of buying a car with credit for example. At the same time the average age of moving out has apparently risen to 29+ and I don’t know how anyone under 40 is a 1st time home buyer in the real estate market where I live --if you can’t buy a house you probably aren’t buying a collector car. So I think there would be lots of data points to explore the context of.

My two Millennial children have an interesting relationship with cars. My daughter ((36) would rather fly her own airplane than own a cool car, although she knows her stuff regarding cars. She took to my '95 Z-28 convertible like crazy but she has her 3 young children. My son (28) loves my Camaro and lusts after my '03 ‘Vette Anniversary convertible with the manual tranny-he actually drives a manual!, but I think that both of them consider these two cars "old peoples’ cars" as they both went WILD for the new C-8 Vette. The car culture, as we know it, is alive and well with these two and they’ll happily inherit my Camaro and Vette, but I really know that they will be going for the mid-engine, high tech collectibles when the time comes.

Perhaps it depends on acceptance of your dates for what the original baby boomer generation was? I don’t ever recall a definition years ago that didn’t include the early to Middle 50s, and that was based on how long the population explosion was. Not everyone came home the day after V-J Day and had a kid 9 months later. There were lots of people who took a couple years 2 rekindle or start new relationships, go to school and find a job and then do their part to keep the baby boom Going. It does seem more accurate to go by the population boom then just picking a short time. After the war was over, no?

Growing up in the 50;s we started with flat head Fords. Dual Carbs, 3/4 race cam etc. More time was spent under cars than in them. In 52 I drove a brand new MG TD and was hooked, even though it scared bejeesus out of me. Putting my foot on the brake blocked my left foot from the clutch. I learned to dance! Had a slew of cars over the years. Had I kept a lot of them I’d be wealthy today. At 86 I drive a 20yr. old Honda S2000. Since I live near the Santa Monica mts. it is my idea of the perfect car. 240 pony’s, 6 speed 9,000 red line, built by hand, superb engineering for relatively little bucks and I defy anyone who drives to keep from smiling! Always driven stick shifts since I was 15. BTW, the MG cost me $2,200 out the door.

The excitement of very different looking cars we had before 1980 or so is gone. Can’t tell a chevy from a ford or even cadillac. We of the old generation LOVED our cars and identified with the color, the look, the bigness, the littleness, the sound, (grrrr, vroom) . Mostly, I believe drivers from before and a couple of decades after the 50’s took pride in being good drivers. Today, few people seem to take that pride seriously when behind the wheel or even take pride in their cars. Just get there and back. Drive fast regardless of speed limits and red lights. Hey, we of the old generation didn’t want to dent our precious beautiful cars. Now I see people not even caring about their cars. they are a utility like pots and pans.

Some interesting comments in this thread. I’ll toss some easily googled info into the mix:

Deaths per million people from auto crashes peaked in the 1930s in the USA, picked back up in the early 60s and has been in a steady decline (with an extra bump down in the 70s gas crisis years) since 1965. It spiked up again in 2015 & 2016 then eased back a bit.

So safer cars and Driver’s Ed must be having some impact, since we know there is more urban density and commuting than ever. Or bad driver’s are at least living to drive another day?

US teen crash deaths in 1975 = 6532 male (75%), in 2018 1567 (63%). Lowest total death year for males was 2013… it jumped up after that and hasn’t trend back below that point yet.