ANN ARBOR, Michigan – There’s been a recent decrease in the proportion of licensed drivers among all U.S. age groups, according to a new study by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).
In an earlier report, Sivak and Schoettle documented a significant drop in the number of licensed drivers among the youngest age group, reporting that in 2008 only 31 percent of 16-year-olds had a driver’s license, compared to 46 percent in 1983.
And as previously reported by Edmunds, a subsequent study from AAA found that just 54 percent of teens held licenses before their 18th birthday. That’s a dramatic decrease from two decades earlier, when more than two-thirds of teens were licensed by the time they turned 18.
Now, this latest research by Sivak and Schoettle, based on data from the Federal Highway Administration, confirms that the proportion of young people who hold driver’s licenses continues to trend downward, but it also finds that many older Americans, too, are choosing to forego driving.
According to UMTRI, the 16-44 age group experienced a continuous decline in the percentage of licensed drivers from 1983 to 2014.
The 45-69 group showed an increase from 1983 to 2008, followed by a decline from 2008 to 2014.
And the over-70 group experienced increases from 1983 to 2011 but then a drop since that time.
So the proportion of licenses drivers among Americans of all ages has dropped considerably since 2011.
Although Sivak told Edmunds “we did not include in the report any speculations” about the reasons for this trend, other reports have some thoughts on the issue.
According to a Frontier Group study, alternative means of transportation have replaced driving for many Americans. Younger people, in particular, choose to walk or bicycle, while those of all ages are making more use of public transportation, as well as ride-sharing and on-demand car services, like Uber and Lyft.
Technology has also played a role in reducing the need to drive.
A U.S. Department of Transportation report, Transportation Implications of Telecommuting, notes that improved online communication and network security have allowed more people to work from home, which has reduced or eliminated the daily commute for many Americans.
And, as the Frontier Group points out, communications technology – everything from portable devices to social media to texting and instant messaging – has become a substitute for many car trips.
All of which might raise questions about whether a decrease in the percentage of licensed drivers could mean a commensurate drop in car sales. But, on the contrary, 2015 was a record-setting year for automakers.
As forecast by Edmunds, sales of cars and light trucks reached almost 17.5 million units last year, topping the previous record high of 17.35 million in 2000.
Low fuel prices, moderate economic growth, the availability of credit and low-APR offers by manufacturers helped keep vehicles flying out of U.S. dealerships throughout the year, with SUVs and pickup trucks showing particularly strong sales performance.
Edmunds says: As this study shows, a smaller percentage of Americans are getting driver’s licenses, but according to sales figures, those who drive are buying more cars.