More young adults would rather surf the Web than cruise around in a car, researchers at the University of Michigan said in a study.
The university's Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor, Mich., found that having a higher proportion of Internet users in the United States is associated with lower licensure rates among young people.
The trend also is apparent in other countries. Researchers found that Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Norway and South Korea had the same decrease in young drivers and an increase in older drivers.
"Countries with higher proportions of Internet users were associated with lower licensure rates among young persons, which is consistent with the hypothesis that access to virtual contact through electronic means reduces the need for actual contact among young people," Michael Sivak, head of the institute's human factors group, said in a statement.
A third of all licensed drivers in the United States were under age 30 in 1983, compared with about 22 percent today, according to the study.
The research also found about 94 percent of Americans in their 20s had a driver's license in 1983, compared with about 84 percent in 2008.
Senior Analyst Rebecca Lindland of IHS Automotive, a research firm in suburban Detroit, says younger consumers are less eager to get their drivers' licenses, and attributes the trend to a societal change with how young people interact with their friends.
"In every other generation, kids had to leave the house to see their friends and now you can do all that online," she said. "A car is no longer required."
Although young adults are not as interested in cars now, it doesn't necessarily mean they won't see a need for cars in the future, Lindland says.
"Some of that disinterest obviously will change as these kids grow up, but even then we will see changes in how they want and need and use vehicles," she said. "It's the first time we've seen that and that's why it's a little bit alarming."
Future licensing trends by age could have major implications for future transportation, the researchers noted, including the future amount and nature of transportation, transportation mode selection, vehicle purchases, safety of travel and environmental consequences of travel.