We already know that people are driving less and owning fewer cars. As we have shown before, since the mid 2,000s both vehicle ownership and the number of kilometres travelled (VKT) have plateaued and then fallen in recent years on a per capita basis (VKT has fallen in real terms too). Even the Herald picked up that the vehicle ownership numbers were are dropping a few days ago.
We also know that there are similar trends occurring in many other western countries with a lot of the evidence pointing to young people driving less. However while we are fairly sure that there generational changes occurring, so far we haven’t had much solid evidence about it. Of course the economy over the last few years hasn’t helped things so this made both Stu and I very interested in looking at other data which may help to confirm the trends we were seeing.
Both Stu and I had actually both been looking at this separately and both come to the conclusion that one of the important bits data that was missing was driver licences. For me the first port of call was to the Ministry of Transport where I found information on how many people in each age group held licences
However having only the total number of licences in each age group at one point in time didn’t really help me. I really needed to see how the figures were changing over time so I put an OIA request into the NZTA who manage the licencing system. I recently received the information back however the data only goes back to 2003 as that is the oldest data available that the agency is confident of the accuracy of. It is also important to note that data is only for those applying for Class 1 (car licences) and that the numbers are for a full calendar year (1st Jan – 31st Dec). Most importantly the minimum age as raised on the 1 August 2011 and that has some significant impacts on the numbers. The changes were:
- Learner licence stage increased from 15 years to 16 years
- Restricted licence stage increased from 15½ years to 16½ years
- Full licence stage increased from 16½ years to 17½ years (with completion of an approved advanced driving course) or 17 years to 18 years (without approved advanced driving course).
Since the minimum age being raised, the restricted tests have also been made harder and I have seen numerous stories about how the pass rate has dropped which is putting some teenagers off driving altogether.
With that out of the way, onto the data. First of all, here is the total number of licences issued by type. The drop over the last few years is partially attributable to the changes in the minimum driving age so I do expect it to come back a bit as those who were not 15 by August by August 2011 become old enough to apply. This should show up in the 2013 numbers.
Things get more interesting when you start to break down the number of licences issued by age group. For this I’m just going to look at learner licences as it indicates a willingness to learn to drive. I’m not sure what happened in 2010 but it was effectively the low point in the number of learner licences issued. Perhaps the discussion around changing the minimum age in 2011 prompted people in older age groups who hadn’t yet got their licence to get one. This is shown in the graph on the left. Further while many of the age groups saw an increase in the total number of licences issued up until 2007, when comparing the numbers to the total population in each age group for each year, it actually represents a decline. This is shown in the graph on the right (I dropped off the older age groups from this graph).
Lastly, the changes might not look that dramatic however when indexed to 2003 there is a definite downward trend with the notable and understandable exception of the 16 year olds. Once again I have removed some of the older age groups due to the noise they add to the graphs.
On its own this information is useful, but when combined with the trends we are seeing in the number of vehicle kilometres travelled and the number of vehicles owned it is clear that there is definite a shift occurring within our society. I guess what surprised me with this data the most is that it isn’t just young people who are applying for fewer licences but also the older age groups too.
For those that want the data, it is here.