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Ashamed of Not Having a Driver’s License? You Shouldn’t Be.

As a college student who lives in upstate New York for the school year and in a city during the summer, the freedom that cars grant individuals has become alarmingly clear to me. With a car, the 30-minute walk to the nearest market becomes a 10-minute drive, making them a household essential. This phenomenon is often described as car dependency, where infrastructure and transportation planning heavily favors cars over other forms of transportation. With cars as America’s dominant mode of transportation, car dependency has worsened individuals' cost of living. Even after the pandemic tripled the number of Americans working primarily from home, 68% of American workers still drive to their jobs

Generation Z is pressured by older generations to get a driver’s license due to car dependency, as Gen Zers are reaching the eligible age to obtain one. Since the construction of the interstate highway system post-World War II, generations have banked on car ownership within a household. Cars provide families and individuals with freedom of mobility to opportunities, healthcare, education and more. However, this level of car dependency creates several barriers that impact low-income households the most.

Car prices have skyrocketed by 33% over the last five years. As of May 2023, a new car costs about $48,000, which is roughly 25% more than the cost of a car in May 2020. All across the board, insurance, maintenance and interest rates on loans for cars are rising. It is creating a larger population of Americans who cannot access many institutional services such as education or healthcare because they lack a car in their household. Furthermore, the process to get a driver’s license requires lessons that can cost, on average, $350. This price tag can prevent households from better opportunities in the area or connecting communities, which puts their more affluent counterparts at an advantage. Moreover, U.S. households spent an average of about $10,000 on transportation in 2021, compared to U.K. households spending about $4,200 in 2021. This illustrates the severity of car dependency in the U.S. and the economic impact of car dependency on the nation. 

The scope of this issue is not just economic, but social as well. Surveys have found that car insurance can cost 30% more for people living in majority-minority zip codes compared to majority-white zip codes with similar risk profiles. Recent studies have also demonstrated that excess automobile usage has contributed to a decline in public spaces, which encourages social stratification and isolation. Additionally, Black and Hispanic applicants are more likely to be denied car loans than white people with the same credit scores and incomes and pay higher interest rates when they’re approved. The impacts of carbon emissions from car dependency are also experienced most heavily by low-income communities.  

Proponents of car dependency cite that cars provide unparalleled freedom, flexibility and efficiency in transportation, especially in areas where public transit is limited or non-existent. For families, cars offer a mode of transportation that makes education, daily tasks, healthcare and other activities accessible and more manageable. Moreover, in rural or suburban areas where distances are greater, cars are often the only viable option, connecting people to jobs, education and services that would otherwise be inaccessible. However, it also must be emphasized that car dependency is a product of the nation’s perpetual car culture that funds car-oriented infrastructure making many places inaccessible without a car. For example, with access to mass transit, Americans drive less on average and can save up to $10,000 annually by taking public transit and owning one less car. Throughout the nation, there is a severe lack of interconnected transit systems such as railroads, and at local levels, there is a lack of accommodation for active transportation like bike lanes. 

As a Gen Zer interested in getting a driver’s license, the dependency on cars in America has become an increasingly alarming issue to me. My analysis of the issue through economic policy revealed that a car-dependent nation is more damaging to its people than we all presume. Especially for city dwellers, there needs to be a greater push to fund infrastructure that is people-oriented rather than car-oriented. 

Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the individual author.  


Serena Smith
Serena Smith

Hi, Anny,

I agree that our nation has become very car-dependent. I live in a rural community where the closest large grocery store is not within walking distance. However, things like bike lanes and public transportation are non-existent. Meanwhile, the price of gas in my county is exorbitantly high, making traveling to anywhere frustrating and expensive. I completely agree that making our nation less car-dependent would serve to better our community in a variety of different ways.


I agree with your analysis. Car dependency impacts the mental health of elders and youth. You mentioned the decline of general public spaces, and I want to take it further and note the decline of third places due to car reliance. Those who cannot drive lack places to spend more than a few minutes and experience resulting isolation.

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