Information Superhighway outpacing Interstate


After decades of steady growth, the miles people drive in Minnesota and the nation have been stagnant or declining for several years now. This trend is usually attributed to the sagging economy or rising fuel prices. But there’s another explanation gaining currency: the Internet, and especially its pull on young people.

Twenty-somethings increasingly shop, telecommute and meet up via the Information Superhighway instead of the Interstate. Text messaging, a staple of Millennium-generation socializing, is dangerous and often illegal behind the wheel. Ditto for working on laptops or watching mobile TV. But all this cyber-activity often works fine on sidewalks and transit common to compact urban neighborhoods that draw young adults.

Federal census and household travel surveys show that as recently as 1995 people in their 20s logged 50 percent more miles driven per capita than the national average. By last year, they were driving less than their proportional share. The research firm J.D. Power & Associates found that Generation Y doesn’t even TALK about cars on social media as much as their elders.

In a new article in Advertising Age magazine, auto industry economist Paul Taylor argued that the current bad economy and tougher licensing rules for teenagers in many states have merely delayed driving for young people, not eliminated it. When they marry and have children, they’ll return to their parents’ mileage-gobbling suburban lifestyles, Taylor said.

NOT, replied William Draves, an education consultant who maintains that the digital age now is reshaping society as radically as the automobile did over the past century. He believes U.S. miles driven will sink to half the current level by 2020. And ScotiaBank economist Carlos Gomes predicts U.S. new vehicle sales over the next decade will grow by barely half the rate of 2000-2009.

As the article by Jack Neff says, “Of course, cars won’t disappear overnight.” But it behooves Minnesota policymakers to keep an eye on the transportation choices of rising generations as we build a network of roads, transit and non-motorized routes for the prosperous future we all desire.