Easy access by public transport and bike – young people are postponing obtaining a driving licence

By Whim • September 21, 2020

Young people in cities don’t need a car as public transport offers convenient ways to get to work, school and leisure activities. As they get older and their circumstances change, they become interested in obtaining a driving licence.

Carolina Valdez, 35, does not have a driving licence, and the main reason for this is that Valdez, who lives in Helsinki, does not think that she needs a car. Initially, however, there were other reasons for her not getting a licence.

“I didn’t get a driving licence as soon as I could have, but then I warmed to the idea a couple of years later. But before I managed to book any driving lessons, I was in a car crash whilst travelling in a taxi, and driving no longer felt safe after that,” says Valdez.

The accident dampened Valdez’s enthusiasm for driving for a while until a few years later, when she decided to give it another go. She still didn’t end up with a driving licence in her pocket, however.

“I had driving lessons and got as far as to the driving test, but I didn’t pass the test because I touched another car by accident when I was parking.”

The main reason for Valdez’s lack of driving licence is, though, the fact that she never really needed one. A native of Argentina, Valdez has always lived in cities where she did not need a car to get around.

“I’ve always been able to walk to the station from my house, and then catch a bus, train or take other modes of public transport. My decision not to obtain a driving licence has really been quite easy, and I’m not upset by my failed attempts to get one.”

Young people in cities have options

Statistics show that Valdez is not an exception. According to Max Fogdell, Head of the Driving Licences unit at the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom, fewer young people are now obtaining a driving licence.

“The number of young people getting a driving licence is declining at a steady pace in all Finnish cities, and the trend is global,” says Fogdell.

According to driving licence statistics, about 55 percent of 18-year-olds who live in cities get a driving licence as soon as they can, while in Helsinki just a third of them do so.

So why is interest in obtaining a driving licence declining among young people? Fogdell says that the most common reason is that they simply don’t need a car when alternative modes of transport are readily available.

“Young people usually get a driving licence to travel to work or school. If their place of work or study is easy to access within a reasonable amount of time by public transport, bike or on foot, then they don’t find it necessary.”

Getting a driving licence also costs money. Young people are likely to prioritise other things, especially if they have to pay for the licence themselves. They don’t think that the added value offered by a driving licence is worth the money.

Fogdell points out that the trend specifically affects young people who live in cities. In Ostrobothnia, for example, 80% of 18-year-olds obtained a driving licence this year.

“Young people in rural areas still need a driving licence. A car is sure to offer a lot of freedom to young people in the countryside,” says Fogdell.

Combining modes of transport increases opportunities

Valdez relies on public transport, and she doesn’t even have a bike at the moment.

“I take the train to work every day and continue from the station to the office either on foot, by city bike or my favourite: e-scooter. I combine different means of transport, and I prefer to use shared bikes and scooters rather than owning one myself,” says Valdez.

People are sometimes amazed at that fact that Valdez doesn’t have a driving licence.

“My friends tell me that I’d have more freedom if I could drive. But I don’t feel that way, now that I live in a city – at least not at this stage of my life.”

As they get older, people become more interested in having a driving licence

Although younger people are less interested in obtaining a driving licence, there are more driving licence holders who are over the age of 20. According to Fogdell, it could be said to be a question of postponing or delaying getting a driving licence.

“When people have children, for example, they reconsider the matter, or when they get older, they might start to prepare for the need for a driving licence,” says Fogdell.

Valdez has also started to consider getting a driving licence.

“A driving license might come in handy at some point in my life. I can see myself with a family sometime in the future, and I think that a licence could be useful with children.”

However, Valdez doesn’t think she’ll have her own car, even if she has a licence one day. Most of Valdez’s friends who have a driving licence don’t have a car either. Fogdell confirms that attitudes towards owning a car are indeed changing, and that owning a car is not very important, especially for young people.

“I doubt it that I’d use a car every day, but it would be nice to be able to travel by car every so often. Then it could well be a rental or shared car, for example,” says Valdez.