YOUNG people in Scotland are increasingly turning their backs on driving because of the soaring cost – and the allure of their smartphones.
Today, fewer than one in three under-21s has a driving licence compared with nearly half 20 years ago.
Driving remains more popular among people in their 20s, but the proportion with licences has also fallen, from three-quarters to just over half in the same period.
Older people, however, are becoming more car dependent, it seems, with more than half of over-70s having a licence, compared with one in three in 1992-4. Around 80 per cent of people in their 60s have a driving licence, up from 50 per cent since the early 1990s.
Transport experts said that high motoring costs, for driving lessons, fuel and insurance, were a major factor in putting young adults off cars. The average fully comprehensive car insurance policy for a male aged 17-20 is currently £3,635 and for a female £1,869.
However, the academics added that the 17-20s were communicating more and more by internet and phone, making it less important to travel to meet friends in person. Car ownership was also no longer seen as a “rite of passage” into adulthood.
Phil Goodwin, emeritus professor of transport at University College London and the University of the West of England, said: “Surveys of young people suggest the most important reason for not getting a driving licence is cost – of learning, insurance, and running a car. But significant numbers also say they have other methods of transport available, or simply that they are just ‘not interested’.
“They also mostly say it is a ‘delay’ and they will eventually get round to it – although the data suggests many won’t.”
But Goodwin added: “I think we have to look behind those surveys at something deeper – it used to be the case that getting a licence and a car were the key ‘rites of passage’ into adulthood, and that just isn’t the case any more. Many young people are much more interested in what sort of mobile phone to get than cars – and their social life using networks, texting, music, online shopping, games and e-books is actually much more compatible with public transport use than driving a car.
“Just look on any bus and train and count how many people are plugged in.”
Dr Jillian Anable, a senior lecturer at the Centre for Transport Research at Aberdeen University, said the phenomenon was one of several factors being investigated to explain the drop in licence holding among the young.
She said: “Social networking has become a substitute for some car trips. Also, public transport is more conducive to being able to stay connected to these networks while on the move, and there is a ban on mobile phone use while driving.”
Motoring groups agreed cars were losing their shine for teenagers. Philip Gomm, of the Royal Automobile Club Foundation, said: “Telecommunications are removing the need for travel, and young people now regard owning an iPhone as being cooler than having a car.”
Road safety charity Brake welcomed the fall. Senior campaigns officer Ellen Booth said: “It may be no bad thing that young people are waiting to learn to drive, as we know that crash risk decreases when drivers wait a couple of years to begin learning.
“It is also vital the government ensures young people remain mobile with excellent public transport, which is a safer and greener option.”
The Institute of Advanced Motorists urged more support to get youngsters driving.
Neil Greig, its Scotland-based policy and research director, said: “The combination of high costs of learning, record fuel prices and extortionate insurance costs are simply pricing teenagers off the roads.
“Having a licence is an excellent avenue into work, and for many may be the only thing they actually pass. The government should consider schemes to help gain a licence as part of the journey back to work.”
Andrew Howard, head of road safety for the Automobile Association, said the rise in older drivers reflected the growth of car sales decades ago. He said: “Today’s 70-year-old male is the person who turned 17 in 1959 just as the Mini and other things revolutionised motoring. Those slightly older people would have learned to drive in National Service or during the Second World War.”