At 23 years old, I’m of the age where I’m either expected to be driving or learning how to drive. Half of my friends have passed their tests, gotten their licences and are either driving around in their parents’ cars or in cheap second hand vehicles that they saved up to buy for themselves. It’s the done thing for people my age, and I’m constantly asked when I’m going to start learning. But driving is very low on my list of priorities, and I’m not sure I’ll ever want to learn.
2.97 million young people in the UK currently hold a full driving licence, a marked drop from 3.32 million in March 2020. This is of course partly caused by Covid-19, as tests have repeatedly been pushed back and instructors put out of work.
The transport policy and research organisation, the RAC Foundation, said: “Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by this fall in the number of full licence holders aged 25 and under in a year when the Covid-19 pandemic increased financial pressures for many, meant driving lessons and driving tests had to be suspended, and resulted in more young people being locked down in their family home.”
However, COVID isn’t the sole reason for this decline, which has been happening for several years. A Department for Transport survey conducted in 2019 found that the most common reasons for 17-20-year-olds in England not trying to get on the road were the costs of learning to drive (41%), buying a car (31%) and insuring it (30%). The average price of car insurance for young drivers is £1800 annually, and this combined with the costs of petrol, parking and maintenance means that many young people just cannot afford to drive, even outside of any financial pressures caused by a pandemic.
In addition to these expenses, another cost is the environmental one. Gen Z and millenials, known as ‘Generation Green’, are the first age group to consider the environmental impacts of everything we do. Car pollution is one of the major causes of global warming, and cars account for 18% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. This undoubtedly does factor into my decision to stick with public transport over having my own car.
Another reason is that, put simply, driving scares me. I’ve witnessed many drivers and their road rage, especially with male drivers. Only last week a man tailed my friend in her car for miles as she was on her way home, and she had to detour from her route so he wouldn’t find out where she lived. These worries aren’t specific to driving, but it is yet another space in which women are made to feel unsafe and incompetent.
I do recognise the benefits of driving. I envy my friends who can just jet off for a late-night drive in their cars and have the freedom to visit the countryside or different cities. It can also open up more work opportunities, which is definitely an advantage to young people in the current job market. But as long as I can avoid getting behind the wheel, I will, and it’s always nice to be chauffeured around instead.