USA: We’re still married to the car – even though we don’t love it any more

The age of the automobile may be over. But, largely thanks to capitalist China, the age of the automobile 2.0 is just beginning
Early evening congestion on a Los Angeles road.
 ‘Driving brings danger, congestion and expense.’ Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian

These, a chorus of voices tells us, are the bittersweet, waning days of our long love affair with the car. In Los Angeles, the most congested city in the world, the average motorist was stuck in peak-time congestion for 102 hours last year. In London, drivers lost the equivalent of three days sitting in traffic jams.

Americans’ rates of car ownership and number of annual miles driven peaked some 15 years ago, and are unlikely to rebound. Young people, for whom cars once served as indispensable tools for independence, identity formation, adventure, self-display and connection (often sexual), have opted for an alternative freedom machine: the smartphone. The proportion of young Americans with driving licences stood at about 92% in 1984; since then it has plunged 15 percentage points. In the UK too, the number of younger drivers has fallen dramatically.

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