It’s been a long time since most of us first got our driver’s license. Then, it was a coveted ticket to freedom, a way to escape the tyrannical dominion of our parents, a pathway to the thrilling world of the 24 hour drive thrus across town. It transformed into a necessity, a means to get to work and school, and sometimes a burden as siblings and younger friends needed to be carted around. And, for many millennials, it’s now become something only useful for bartenders checking your birthdate.
Younger millennials are significantly less interested in driving than their predecessors, and thus we’re more comfortable with driverless cars and we’re more interested in automated buses, taxis, or Ubers.
The licenses that we wanted so badly as teenagers have ceased to be relevant for many.
This is a huge departure from the America envisioned by our grandparents. That’s not to say that we have any obligation to abide by that, but what caused such a radical shift? Why are we breaking up with cars, and will it be a clean or mess separation?
Maybe We’re Just Young?
Cars are expensive, and young people aren’t exactly known for their wealth. There are some exceptions but, on the whole, starting a life independently is an uphill battle. Especially given rising student loan rates and many entry-level positions suddenly requiring years of experience, younger millennials are struggling to accomplish the same milestones that our parents did at our age: house, car, marriage, kids, the whole shabang. These goals seems unreachable for many financially constrained millennials.
Because we don’t yet have the full responsibilities of adulthood, we flock to big cities for the job opportunity, social interaction, and nightlife. Whether we’re going to stay in cities or just embrace new urbanism doesn’t matter too much; either way, we’re not dependent upon our own cars. Instead, we bike or ride the bus. We use ride-sharing services to get from one end of town to the other cheaply, either for convenience's sake or because we had too much to drink. It’s no secret that the younger crowd tends to have a more active nightlife, but apps like Uber or Lyft offer no excuse for intoxicated driving.
However, we apparently don’t all see it that way. Some reports suggest that no one, including millennials, are taking advantage of ride-sharing when they need it most. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to hand over our keys no matter how many shots we’ve had. This trend will likely continue as drugs like marijuana become increasingly acceptable, which has some experts worrying about devastating consequences behind the wheel. Perhaps with increased education and awareness, millennials will abandon cars entirely while intoxicated under any substance, though this might just be wishful thinking.
Maybe It’s the Times?
Instead of thinking about this as “what’s different about millennials”, maybe we need to think, “what’s different about now?” Some of the answers are obvious. We’re more technologically integrated in almost every aspect of our lives now. Alternative fuels are becoming more viable, and ride-sharing apps like Uber have exploded in the past couple years with 8 million people using it regularly.
Besides just being technologically savvy, millennials are more environmentally aware as well. This might not be entirely due to our generation, though, and more to do with the fact that civilization’s role in climate change is becoming clearer. We’re conscious of the negative impact that our cars all carry, and when each of us drive individually to and from work daily, that impact only gets heavier. Instead, we’re looking forward to the future, when electric cars are the norm, and autonomous vehicles are constantly transporting passengers, leaving room for parks where parking garages used to be.
Furthermore, maybe we’re just used to technological revolution? The earliest cell phones appeared right as the millennial generation entered the world; we remember a time before computers were mandatory and small enough to fit on the tip of your finger. But we’re also technologically fluent, able to adapt to new devices and operating systems without a pause. There’s no reason why autonomous vehicles should be any different. We’re happy to let tech do the heavy lifting.
We’ve also detached the idealistic appeals surrounding car ownership. Having a car is no longer synonymous with autonomy or wealth. It’s been reduced to a necessity in some areas and an inconvenience in others. Whatever marketing strategy car executives used in the past is going to need a serious revamp if it wants to loop millennials in the market. Otherwise, if current trends continue, we’ll easily drop our keys and refuse to renew our licenses.
Millennials are too poor and community-driven to buy their own cars, and the environmentally conscious and tech-savvy world that we now live in only encourages alternative transportation. While there will likely be pushback from older generations who don’t inherently trust tech, millennials have already prepared for autonomous vehicles and constant ride-sharing. You might not want to abandon your old college clunker just yet, but its days are numbered.