Paul Charman: Are young people going off cars

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The statistics can't really tell us - but maybe you can

Are fewer teens looking forward to getting their learner licence and a set of wheels? Photo / Rotorua Daily Post
Are fewer teens looking forward to getting their learner licence and a set of wheels? Photo / Rotorua Daily Post

Young people seem more interested in owning an expensive smartphone than owning a car.

All around the developed world, young people appear to be swapping dreams of owning a car for the idea of staying in touch with friends by smartphone and riding out to see them using public transport.

From New York to Tokyo, statisticians are logging fewer young people passing driver's licence tests when compared to the numbers doing so five to 10 years ago. The trend is said to terrify car manufacturers.

Toyota president Akio Toyoda has complained that young Japanese are no longer as interested in cars. Japanese in their 20s only accounted for 13 per cent of all driver's licence holders compared with 26 per cent three decades earlier.

But what about in this country? Are young Kiwis getting more interested in iPhones than Japanese imports?

You'd hardly think so, judging by those high-profile enthusiasts sometimes unfairly lumped together as "boy racers".

And it's almost certain that rural youngsters haven't cooled their car ardour any.

Living in the country - now as always - you either learn to drive and get yourself a set of wheels to attend school, work or social activities - or you stay home alone.

Some middle-aged parents spoken to confirmed that their sons and daughters seem lukewarm about the idea of gaining a licence and buying a car.

"Why would they [want to drive themselves] when they've always been driven everywhere by us?" said a cynical Mt Eden father.

An Avondale mum agreed with the basic trend, but had a different explanation: "It's purely economic," the woman told Driven.

"Both my daughters would drive if they had jobs generating enough money to do so. One works as a barista and the other is studying to gain a qualification in childcare and neither can afford to buy or run cars," she said.

Statistics confirm that fewer teenage Kiwis now hold driver's licences, but the other side of the coin is that more aged in their early 20s now have licences.

NZTA national media manager Andy Knackstedt points out that at least some of the former trend follows the minimum licensing age in New Zealand being raised from 15 to 16 years in 2011.

So it could be that more Kiwi youngsters are cooling off on the dream of car ownership - the statistics just can't tell us for sure.

What they do show is an interesting jump in use of public transport among the young.

Research by Roy Morgan shows more elderly Kiwis are driving than 10 years ago, while more younger people are opting to be car-free.

The proportion of over-65s who drive has grown by about 10 per cent in the past decade and seniors are now more likely than under-35s to drive.

"The decline in driving among younger people correlates to an increase in public transport usage," general manager Pip Elliott said.

"In the year to August 2003, about a quarter of 25 to 34-year-olds travelled by bus in an average three months; in the year to August 2013, this had risen to 30 per cent."

So the number of under-35s taking the bus has increased, while the number of teen licence applicants has fallen.

Perhaps readers of Driven can clear up whether this means youngsters are going off cars.

Are young people you know less enthusiastic about gaining a licence and purchasing a car than you were at their age. Go to nzherald.co.nz/driven or on facebook.com/DrivenNZ

- NZ Herald

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