The Internet has wreaked havoc on the music industry and the news media, and it may be doing the same thing to automobiles.
It's a rarely acknowledged transformational shift that has been going on for perhaps 15 years: The automobile, once a rite of passage for American youth, is becoming less relevant to a growing number of people under 30. And that could have broad implications for advertisers in industries far beyond insurance, gasoline and retail.
Certainly it's hard to believe for anyone stuck in traffic on the way to O'Hare Airport in Chicago, a bridge or tunnel into Manhattan, any freeway in Los Angeles or the newly repaved four-lane highway to a suburban Walmart. But look around: The people in the other cars are likely to be in their 40s or older.
In 1978, nearly half of 16-year-olds and three-quarters of 17-year-olds in the United States had their driver's licenses, according to Department of Transportation data. By 2008, the most recent year data were available, only 31 percent of 16-year-olds and 49 percent of 17-year-olds had licenses. The decline has accelerated rapidly since 1998.
Many states have raised the minimum age for driver's licenses or tightened restrictions. Still, the downward trend holds true for 18- and 19-year-olds as well and those in their 20s.
It's not just new drivers driving less. The share of automobile miles driven by people 21-30 in the United States fell to 13.7 percent in 2009, from 18.3 percent in 2001 and 20.8 percent in 1995, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration's National Household Travel Survey released this year.
Meanwhile, Census Bureau data show the proportion of people 21-30 increased to 13.9 percent from 13.3, so 20-somethings actually went from driving a disproportionate amount of the nation's highway miles in 1995 to underindexing for driving in 2009.