A new study shows the number of Millennials who get drivers licenses is falling at an alarming rate. Millennials care less than any previous generation about having cars – will motorcycles be on the decline too, or will young people keep riding in the future for totally different reasons?
For most Americans, getting a driver’s license has always been an important rite of passage. It’s often the first big step into adulthood we take, and the first taste we get of the freedom that comes with it. But new study out last week shows that Millennial drivers now appear to be ditching getting driver’s licenses more and more – at an alarming rate. The study, by the University of Michigan, shows that just a little over 3 out of 4 people ages 20-24 possess a driver’s license now. The actual figure – 76.7% – is a sharp decline from 82% in 2008, and fully 92% in 1983.
But this is only the most recent of many studies indicating that, more and more, young people just don’t care as much as they used to about driving. They are not only increasingly less likely to have a driver’s license, but they travel less miles by automobile overall, and tend to care less about cars in general. This is a recent trend that is accelerating rapidly, but so far nobody knows exactly why this is the case.
There are a number of potential explanations given, however, such as:
- A weak job market for Millennials, along with massive student loan debt carried by their generation, makes car ownership unaffordable
- Millenials tend to accomplish more things remotely than in person, via the internet and social media, which reduces the need for a car
- Ride-sharing services and improvements in on-demand delivery make driving or owning a car less necessary (the “Uber syndrome”)
- Millennials generally prioritize spending money on experiences over possessions
- More Millenials choose to live in cities, where owning a car is more of a hassle, and more alternative transportation options exist
- There are a lot of factors at play making it less necessary for young people to drive, and to decide that may ultimately not be worth the expense and hassle associated with having a car. These trends could signal that a permanent change in the long-standing love affair Americans have had with their cars is coming – and car manufacturers are understandably worried about these trends, given how much of their future growth is at stake.
· An Opportunity In Disguise
- But instead of being worried by how many less young people are driving, perhaps motorcycle manufacturers should see it as an opportunity: to win over more people who decide not to drive, and convince them to ride instead. Based on what studies tend to say about the tendencies that Millennials have, there are a few reasons to believe young people might be more attracted to riding motorcycles than driving cars. Here are a few:
- 1) They are cheaper than cars. Having no money is a problem that plagues the underemployed, student-debt-ridden Millennial generation, but they still need to get around. Motorcycles are not only a more affordable transportation option than a car, they also cost less to fuel up, and less to park.
- 2) They are easier to own.Motorcycles are not only cheaper to own than cars, they are less of a hassle. In cities, where young people prefer to live, searching for parking spots for a car can eat up a good part of your day, parking fees are so expensive they need to be included in your monthly budget, and you live in constant fear of being ticketed, towed, or backed into. You can cut out most of these problems by riding a bike.
- 3) They have a lower environmental impact.Millennials tend to be more environmentally responsible than previous generations, and having a vehicle that gets 40 or 50 MPG would be more appealing to them than higher polluting cars.
- 4) They are cooler and more unique than cars.You hear a lot about how image conscious and obsessed with “uniqueness” Millennials are; whether that’s true or not, a motorcycle is, and always has been, a way to go against the grain, and get attention. (And they make great photos to post on Instagram.)
- 5) Riding is an exciting experience.One thing that characterizes Millennials is that they prefer to spend their money on “experiences.” I’ll admit I’m not 100% sure what constitutes “experiences” in all these studies, but I do know that riding a motorcycle is one of the most intense and exciting experiences you can have.
- 6) More young women are riding than ever before.While drivers licenses among young people in general are on a sharp decline, the number of young women owning motorcycles is increasing every year; a trend that will add to future motorcycle demand.
Transportation Is Changing; The Thrill Of Riding Isn’t
There’s no doubt that transportation, and the relationship Americans have with cars in general, is changing. This isn’t “a Millennial thing” – it’s just where the future is headed. Personally, I love owning a car, and I simply can’t foresee a situation where I would ever be okay with not having one. But at the same time, I know I can pay all my bills online, get my groceries delivered to my door, call an Uber if I need to leave the house, and heck, I can even get Postmates to bring a burrito to my house in twenty minutes if I wanted one. The fact is, I could get by without a car – and these days, it’s pretty easy to do.
But one thing I could never replace with an app, a ride-sharing service, or even a self-driving car is the way riding a motorcycle makes me feel. It excites me, it makes me feel alive, and I just feel cool doing it. I don’t do it because I have somewhere to be, I do it because I love doing it, and it’s an experience I wouldn’t want to live without. In other words, yes I could go without a car, but I would not want to go without my bike.
So yes, car ownership may decline in the future. But if motorcycle manufacturers are smart, and make bikes that are easy and fun for young people to ride, own, and maintain, I could see motorcycling becoming even more popular in the future for Millennials – and whatever generation comes after them – for the same reasons that cars are on the decline.