Having driver's licence no longer de rigueur

Dunedin Generation Y member Andrew Weatherston says he is yet to get his driver's licence because...
Dunedin Generation Y member Andrew Weatherston says he is yet to get his driver's licence because of the cost of lessons. Photo by Craig Baxter.

Getting a driver's licence is not the rite of passage it used to be, with young people increasingly going online rather than getting behind the wheel.

University of Otago Centre for Sustainability postdoctoral research fellow Debbie Hopkins is researching the trend after getting funding from the Ministry of Transport.

Her research involves interviewing Generation Y New Zealanders (aged 18-35) who either have not bothered to get a licence or have got a licence but don't drive.

While it was too early to draw any conclusions from her work, international research suggested internet and smart phone use was a factor in fewer young people getting licences.

''Whereas previously we would have got in our cars and driven to see our friends, now they can just chat over Facebook [or] use Skype,'' Dr Hopkins said.

There was also evidence the global financial crisis and the cost of buying a car and sitting licence tests were putting off young people.

Cars were also perhaps not the ''status symbol'' they once were and young people were also increasingly aware of the environmental impact of driving.

''Previously, it was a rite of passage that getting a licence meant you were becoming an adult and buying a car was your first big purchase and a status symbol that everyone wanted.''

Her research had ''wide-ranging'' implications, because it would affect the level of demand for different transport infrastructure, including public transport.

''If young people aren't getting their licences and aren't driving, then we would need to rethink how we fund transport infrastructure.''

Two Dunedin Generation Y members spoken to by the Otago Daily Times yesterday said cost was the main barrier to getting a licence.

Andrew Weatherston (21), who has had his learner's licence since 2008, said he could not afford to pay the $70 an hour it cost for lessons, which he needed in order to sit his restricted licence.

Leah White (21) said the costs of driving, which included paying for petrol and getting car registration, had put her off getting a licence.

''I have lived in a few places around New Zealand, but have never needed it due to everything either being in walking [distance] or accessible by public transport.''

Non-drivers interested in taking part in the research could contact Dr Hopkins at debbie.hopkins@otago.ac.nz

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