The amount of driving regular Americans engage in appears to have peaked in 2004 and has been on a steady decline since. That is the result of a new paper by Micheal Sivak at the University of Michigan.

Sivak speculated about the likely causes of this drop, writing in his conclusion.

All of these rates reached their maxima in 2004—four years prior to the beginning of the current economic downturn— and decreased by 5% to 9% by 2011. These reductions likely reflect, in part, noneconomic changes in society that influence the need for vehicles (e.g., increased telecommuting, increased use of public transportation, increased urbanization of the population, and changes in the age composition of drivers).

I wonder if smartphones and the mobile internet are not also significant factors. Ten years ago when I traveled – be it driving, riding a train or taking a bus – I was likely only listening to music to pass the time. The entertainment value of all three options were relatively equal but driving often provide greater flexibility.

Now, thanks to the smartphone on mass transit I watch a movie, text, check my email, do some work, read the news or play games. I’ve noticed that when I’m on the subway a a lot of the people are using their phones. On the other hand, when I’m driving my options are still basically limited to just listening to the radio.

Smartphones have, by comparison, made driving a lot more tedious way of traveling from A to B.

I suspect this is at least an important part of the reason young people don’t value car ownership as much and sp the number of young people with driver’s licenses has dropped significantly.