America’s love affair with the automobile and those dreams of roaring off on open highways are on the wane as the nation grapples with too much stop-and-go traffic and too many hours spent behind the steering wheel.
Those findings are contained in a report to be released Thursday by Arity, a technology research spinoff created two years ago by Allstate Insurance.
Arity underscored the growing disillusionment by using a single illustration: Americans, on average, spend more time in their cars — mostly driving to and from work — than they receive in vacation time. Arity researchers said most people average 321 hours in the car and get 120 hours of vacation.
“To me that really crystallizes the issue,” said Lisa Jillson, who leads Arity’s research and design department. “I get a certain amount of vacation time, and I spend almost three times that in my car just getting back and forth to a job.”
Her research showed a notable difference between millennials, born in the 1980s, and boomers from the early 1960s. Unhappiness with driving becomes more pronounced, with 59 percent of millennials saying they’d “rather spend time doing more productive tasks than driving,” while only 45 percent of baby boomers make that same statement.
“Millennials don’t see it as worth it any more. It’s not worth the [expense of] car ownership and traffic becomes even more of a headache,” Jillson said. “Boomers are more just comfortable that ‘this is the way things are,’ but millennials have seen how technology can impact things for the better.”
The evolution of the millennial experience has been written ad nauseam, but there are a couple of salient points worth mentioning. More so than previous generations, they grew up with technology and computers. They communicate readily by cellphone, with text messaging and with other phone apps, so they have less need for face-to-face palaver than their predecessors.
They have less need to drive because, as the financial services and investment firm UBS reports: “Mobile technology allows Millennials to manage nearly every aspect of their lives online and has altered how they consume information, make purchasing decisions and share feedback.”
What’s more, millennials carry an inordinate part of the $1.3 million in student debt, and that influences their decisions.
“Millennials also appear to prefer living closer to metropolitan areas that offer employment and convenient, on-demand services,” UBS reports, “as they tend to flourish in metropolitan areas by utilizing the Internet and mobile devices as a means of conveniently providing services and things on demand without any ownership commitment (e.g. Uber, Zipcar).”
Almost twice as many millennials use ride-share services as do boomers, and they’re slightly more likely to rent a car or take public transportation, Arity found.
“Ten years ago there weren’t any other options unless you lived near a train line,” Jillson said. “Otherwise, you had a car because that was your only choice. Now, even in the rural areas, car share and ride share are big options. You might wait a little longer, but it’s there.”
Half of millennials say they don’t think owning a car is worth the money and that they’d rather be more productive than driving 321 hours a year. Jillson need look no farther than her own household, where two teenagers haven’t been eager to get their driver’s license.
“The idea of being able to drive from Colorado to Arizona and see the sights of America, that hasn’t gone away, but that’s not what we’re talking about here,” she said. “We’re talking about one person in one auto on really congested roads, with a pretty heavy expense. There is no open road on the day-to-day commute.”