Noticed less congested roads lately? You can thank apps for that

Volvo smartphone app

Are smart phones making it easier to find ways around driving?

While we automotive journalists report on green cars and alternative fuels, we rarely mention that the greenest option of all is simply leaving the car at home. This is hugely distasteful for us. So you’ll just have to understand why we omit this fact.

Turns out, though, people are foregoing the freeway and smartphones are blame – or thank – depending on your outlook.

A new study suggests that Americans are driving less now than at any point since 1996. The study by the US Public Interest Research Group looked at the connection between the rise of various apps for ride sharing, and other alternative forms of transportation, and the decline in people – particularly young people – driving.

Let’s start with the bad news. If this study is true, hipsters will be more smug and insufferable than ever. The good news: it looks like we won’t be sharing the road with them for long.

Apparently Americans between the age of 16 and 34 are driving almost a quarter less than they did at the beginning of the millennium.

Increased connectivity and, in particular, the advent of smart phones, have made it much easier both to take advantage of public transportation or to plan trips on short notice that use car sharing or other similar alternatives.

As someone who spent a fair part of his teenage years taking the bus, I can say that I would have loved the trip planning functions that currently go unused on my iPhone. Being able to simply enter an address is literally years ahead of having to sort through a stack of poorly printed bus schedules and route maps.

The study draws similar conclusions about the proliferation of ride and car sharing apps. These programs make it possible to reserve and find cars quickly. And in the case of ride sharing, not only can you find someone going to your destination quickly but you can see, based on reviews, how polite of a serial killer they are.

It’s not just ease of use either. As Wifi and cellular have become ubiquitous, it is now possible to work during your commute. Despite some heroic and wildly unsafe efforts to use laptops and phones on the highway, it’s much easier to work from the seat of a train.

If the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s study is to be believed, then this shift in transportation is good for everyone. Some people can avoid the expense and complication of car ownership, while others get to enjoy less conjected roads and polar bears won’t have to invest in sunscreen. 

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