* A former rite of passage becomes a chore for some
* Slack economy, environmental concerns help push a trend
By Deborah Zabarenko
WASHINGTON, July 1 (Reuters) - To Shoshana Gurian-Sherman,
driving seemed like a huge hassle.
"Part of it was laziness," the 23-year-old Minneapolis
resident recalled. "I didn't really want to put in the effort to
learn how to drive ... I knew how to ride the buses, so it was
"And the other thing was, it was just scary, the idea of
being in charge of a vehicle that potentially could kill me or
other people," Gurian-Sherman said.
She eventually got her license at 18, two years later than
she could have, after her parents threatened not to pay for
college if she did not learn to drive, a skill they considered
to be important.
In her reluctance to drive or own a car, Gurian-Sherman is
typical of a certain segment of Generation Y, the coveted
marketing demographic encompassing the 80 million U.S. residents
between the ages of 16 and 34.
Bigger than the post-World War Two baby-boom generation but
without the middle-class expansion that drove the earlier
group's consumer habits, Generation Y includes an increasing
number of people for whom driving is less an American rite of
passage than an unnecessary chore.
"That moment of realizing that you're a grown-up - for my
generation, that was when you got your driver's license or car,"
said Tony Dudzik, a senior policy analyst of the Frontier Group,
a California-based think tank that has studied this phenomenon.
"For young people now, that moment comes when you get your first
U.S. residents started driving less around the turn of the
21st century, and young people have propelled this trend,
according to the federal government's National Household Travel
From 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of
vehicle-miles traveled by people ages 16-34 dropped 23 percent,
from 10,300 to 7,900, the survey found. Gen Y-ers, also known as
Millennials, tend to ride bicycles, take public transit and rely
on virtual media.
More than a quarter of Millennials - 26 percent - lacked a
driver's license in 2010, up 5 percentage points from 2000, the
Federal Highway Administration reported.
THE HIGH COST OF DRIVING
At the same time, older people are driving more, researchers
at the University of Michigan found. In 2008, those age 70 and
older made up the largest group of drivers on the road, more
than 10 percent, which was slightly higher than those in their
40s or 50s.
The Michigan researchers offered a few reasons why some
younger drivers hesitate to get behind the wheel: the high cost
of owning, fueling and maintaining a car and the convenience of
The Frontier Group's Dudzik suggested a related cause:
computer and smartphone applications that make taking public
transportation easier, with minute-by-minute tracking of buses
and trains and simple online maps and travel directions.
Whether Gen Y-ers will eventually drive more than they do
now will affect transportation infrastructure costs, Dudzik
Bikes and car-sharing services make it easier to avoid the
expense of owning a fossil-fueled vehicle. Environmental
concerns are another reason, said David Jacobs of the Tombras
Group, a marketing firm based in Knoxville, Tennessee.
"It's not the main reason, but it is a compelling reason,"
More central is the group's general anxiety over finances
and the economy, he said.
"They're shouldering higher mortgage costs, rent; their
insurance costs are higher than previous generation's," Jacobs
said. "And all that's happening after a couple of recessions, so
they've really never, as young adults, seen a very healthy,
stable economy. They're worried about a lot of things."
To sell cars or anything else to Generation Y, he said, "you
have to talk to them at their level and make them interested and
show them you are a valuable, reputable company with a quality
product and you do care about the environment, the economy."
That fits with Gurian-Sherman's thoughts on the environment
in her decision not to own a car: "I don't know if I consider
myself an environmentalist, but I care about the impact that I
(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent;
Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)
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