deuce coupe“Driving by men has declined in every age group except those 65 or older, where it increased slightly. Among women, driving declined only among young adults and teenagers.”

Remember when the ultimate sign of freedom was being able to jump in your car and just drive? No one was telling where to go or what time to you had to get there.  Just drive!  The only thing you loved more than your car was probably your mom and her apple pie!

Lately there have been a slew of news articles examining current trends in driving habits – number of people with driver’s licenses, monthly average number of miles being driven, who are buying new cars, etc…  Almost all indicators suggest a decline in driving, especially among young adults and teenagers.  According to economists Don Pickrell and David Pace, driving habits peaked in 2007 and they suggest several reasons for the decline since.

Mostly reasons seem to be economical – high gas prices, recession, and high cost of new cars.  But there are other possible reasons.  Maybe there is less fascination with the cars themselves – driving a ‘computer car’ just doesn’t compare to driving a classic pink Cadillac, an old Chevy Coupe or a ‘Hot Rod Lincoln.’  We have become more sensitive to environmental pollution due to gas emissions and the dependence on foreign oil.

But the groups being most affected seem to be younger.  The older driver seems to be hanging in there with their driving habits, especially older men.  The paradox here is that economically you would think the older driver would be less inclined to drive.  Elderly on fixed incomes may be more negatively affected by high gas prices and the outrageous cost of a new car (average price $31,000).  Yet, older folks seem to be driving as much as ever or even more.

I’m not sure why, but I have some theories.

First, driving equates to independence.  Older drivers seem to be more likely to hold on to that old feeling of freedom and driving.  Giving up their driver’s license is like a death sentence and the first major indicator of losing one’s independence.

Second, older drivers drive more for purpose than pleasure.  I think they drive more often for a specific reason – to get to the store, the doctors, to socialize.  The art of joy riding doesn’t fascinate them as much as it might a younger person who is looking for kicks in a fast car and wanting to be noticed.

Also, older drivers may have advantages in driving habits compared to younger drivers. It’s been said that older drivers are the safest drivers on the road – as long as they are healthy.  Insurance is cheaper for them and maybe an ‘old-timer’ is more likely to hold on to that old car longer, have it paid off and drives only when absolutely necessary.  No need to trade it in for something they can’t afford.

As I get older I find myself holding on tighter to my 2002 Camaro and not being so in love with newer cars.  I can hear the sound of my car’s engine, especially when I start it.  I can feel and ‘hug the road’ with my wide tires.  Deep down I know if I wanted to I can blow the doors off most cars on the highway.  And when I close the door, it sounds like a car, not a tin can.  I still want to know how to do basic maintenance on my own car.  And, if needed, I have a trusted mechanic who is a good friend of mine and understands my car, as well as me. So I am probably on my way to being one of those folks who will probably hold on to that car forever and that feeling of freedom while driving.

How do you feel about driving in today’s world?  Sitting in traffic as your expensive gas is used up.  Is it still fun?  Can you still remember the first time you got in your own car after getting your driver’s license and you could go anywhere you wanted?  I do!

2002 camaro

Our Guest Blogger this week is Tony DiNuzzo, PhD, Director, East Texas Geriatric Education Center-Consortium.

Join us for a real-time discussion about ideas raised by this essay on Tuesday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room:


Lowy, J. Americans Driving Less as Car Culture Wanes. ABC News, Aug. 29, 2013.