You’ve heard about peak oil, but what about peak automobile? There is mounting evidence that society has already passed the years of maximum car use. Fewer young consumers are getting driver’s licenses than their parents, and they are also buying fewer cars. Numerous studies point to a significant change in consumption that is not explained away by the recent financial crisis.
Over the past century, the automobile has been a dominant force, changing the way we build and connect cities, the way we live, and even the way we perceive distance. So why are we driving less? Over the past 15 years, the ways we communicate with each other have changed drastically. A study by U.S. PIRG notes that while the use of the internet and so-called smart phones has expanded rapidly, the amount of automobile travel in the USA has not only peaked but is actually declining; Americans drive about as much today as they did in 1996.
This effect is more pronounced among younger generations. A likely explanation is that smart phones have done for the 21st century what cars did a hundred years ago. They make seemingly long distances much smaller, and they connect us to people and places we couldn’t reach before. Better communication technology has increased our ability to see and interact with our social networks without actually being there, which may be why we have not only reached, but long since passed peak automobile.