Driver's licenses per 1000 people (age 16 and older)

Driver's license numbers are via the NYS DMV. Population estimates are via the Census Bureau. Estimates from 2010 forward, and those before 2010, are somewhat different types of estimates (like comparing different types of apples). Estimates for 2007 and 2008 weren't available for Hamilton and Schuyler counties because of their small population sizes. Also, because those counties have such small populations and these are estimates, there are going to be some oddities. For example: Hamilton County shows up as having more drivers licenses than people old enough to drive.

Vehicle use

These graphs are via the federal Office of Highway Policy Information, FHWA.





Not in the driver's seat

car steering wheel

An increasingly uncommon spot?

A theme that's popped up often in recent years among developers, planners, cultural observers, whoever: more people -- younger adults (the Millenials), especially -- don't like to drive. You see it mentioned in national articles, and we've had developers and planners mention it to us locally.

We had that idea in mind this week when we came across some numbers about vehicle use over the last few decades, both nationally and here in New York State. One thing led to another and we ended up calculating driver's licenses per capita for counties around the state. (Because of course.)

A few interesting bits floated by along the way. Among them: Of New York State counties that are not part of New York City, Albany County has one of the lowest levels of driver's licenses per capita in the state -- and the rates for all of the Capital Region core counties in 2013 were down compared to 2007.

Here are a few quick graphs, and a few thoughts.

Graphs and a map

They're above in large format -- click or scroll all the way up.

A few things

+ Of the 57 non-New York City counties, Albany County ranked #4 for lowest number of driver's licenses per 1000 people (age 16 and older). Rensselaer County ranked #24, Schenectady County #44, and Saratoga County #54.

+ Tompkins County (where Ithaca is located) had the lowest driver's licenses per capita figure.

+ All four Capital Region core counties had lower rates of driver's licenses per capita in 2013 compared to 2007.

+ Whether there are actual significant trends here is a good question. But it does look like there's been some sort of ripple the last few years.

+ It's probably also not a coincidence that transit ridership nationally in 2013 was at its highest level in more than half a century. And here in the Capital Region, CDTA has been reporting record ridership in recent years.

+ There are a lot of theories about why younger people aren't driving as much compared to other generations. One is that they just haven't been able to afford a car. Others have argued it's more a cultural shift. It'll be interesting to see if things change as the economy picks up.

+ If the future does mean fewer drives -- whether because people choose not to get a license, or simply choose not to drive -- then that seems like an opportunity for places/orgs such as cities and transit orgs. All the more reason to provide people with good experiences such as pedestrian-friendly landscapes and easy-to-use, efficient transit systems.

+ Having a driver's license doesn't mean you have a car, nor does it mean that you drive, of course.


Certainly the ability to afford a vehicle and/or vacation will have an impact, but also consider the cost of fuel. As fuel costs went up, people vacationed closer to home. Even if they could afford the car and the rest of the vacation, it took more just to get there. Perhaps that trend in itself will continue now that fuel has come down from those peaks. Only time will tell.

After resisting and getting by for a decade with a learner permit (can't renew those, by the way - have to get a whole new one when it expires!) I finally got a driver's license in 2010 hoping to increase job prospects.

After another 5 years of holding out and just walking the mile or so to work and back daily, I finally caved and bought a car this year. Not because I can't or don't want to walk..

but because on a long enough time scale.. willingly crossing the intersection of Wolf and Sand Creek Road (or Wolf and Computer Drive, which is even worse) is suicide, plain and simple.

So put me down as a millenial that hates to drive (I do) but has to anyway because the city planning - and quality of driver - around here was so bad? Heh, is there a column for that?

Schuyler County is always trying to divide by zero!

Count me as a millennial who doesn't drive much...and my husband, and my family in fact! We all live downtown and either walk, bike, or take the bus to our respective jobs. Between my husband and I, my mother, and my brother we all share one car...we just trade off using it to run errands because sadly downtown Albany is a food desert still (Someone should open a grocery where Jillian's used to be). Most of the time we only take the car out once or twice a week.

Put me down as part of the "has a license but won't own a car" crowd. I sold my car over five years ago and haven't looked back. Instant quality of life improvement! Then again, I also have very little to do with the suburbs - about the extent of my involvement is going to Crossgates, Target or Trader Joe's, which are all quite easy to do on the bus.

The CarShare program is another huge help since it started last summer, and their new parking spot is around the corner from my apartment. Along with CDTA improvements, it's gotten easier and easier to go carfree since I sold mine.

• I think these trends are both cultural and financial. As a millennial, I just don’t see the allure of driving and just find it inane that one would spend 5-10% of their household budget on an object that sits on asphalt for 23 hours of the day. While our household has one car, 90% of our travel is done by CDTA or foot, with our driveway essentially babysitting our car the majority of the time. We purposely choose to live in Albany because it could afford us the ability to not be a slave to our car. Culturally, many of my peers feel the same way. In fact, it was recently that a co-worker who loves cars was lamenting the fact that those under 40 just do not appreciate cars like his generation did. Most of us pointed out that tech is the “new” car, where millennials are quick to compare and ogle over the latest tech (much like teens of the ’50-‘70’s may have over cars).

Then there is the financial component, with student loans and cell phone bills holding many young drivers back, and if you are a bit older and have purchased a house or have started a family, a car is a sticky proposition to add to the financial load. While we have one car, we’ve saved thousands in gas and maintenance costs alone since moving to Albany, and once the car payments are done, I can enjoy spending my hard earn cash on the things I really love (rather than paying the driveway to babysit my car for over $300 a month).

When I tell folks (read older co-works, often from the suburbs) that I don’t have a car, they look like a deer in headlights. They then usually quip that “today’s youth (including myself) are too technologically attached that they guess driving is no longer necessary, but they just can’t understand why; how do they get anywhere.” I can’t discount that we love our technology, but I find this argument to be hogwash when it comes to driving. Face to face interaction is still valued by us and is critical to realizing synergies at the companies we work for. Which is why I maintain that despite technology, cities are essential for the cross-pollination needed to spark new inventions and ideas and that won’t go away through telecommuting. More importantly, we place value on personal experiences (e.g. the latest food scene, concerts, travel, etc.) and prefer spending our paychecks on living rather than having our paychecks spanked by a car, which technology just can’t provide alone.

apparently there is no value on the personal experience of the open road!

Having a car = freedom. The freedom to not be a slave to bus times, delays or the weirdo sitting next to you farting up a storm.

Having a car is not any less a slave situation. Out of the blue repairs, accidents, and regular maintenance and parking sound more like slavery to me. Maybe if you're making good money, and you can buy a new car like you do socks, and not think about repairs.

I moved to Albany specifically to have the bus available if my vehicle was in for maintenance. It's nice to be able to drop off your car, and leave it at the shop without asking for a ride from someone else. I live in Center Square, and currently maintain an old 94 Sentra. I live two miles from work and in the summer I ride my bike to work. Unfortunately, I work nights across the Hudson River, and in the winter I can't ride my bike, or get public transit that late in the evening. I would LOVE to ditch my car in favor of a car share option.

There's got to be a great Venn diagram that could be made of people who are anti-car and people who like or love Jack Kerouac's "On The Road," which highly promotes car ownership and purposeless driving.The intersection of those two circles in a Venn diagram is probably bigger than in most. So I'll ask: Is it okay that Sal and Dean didn't have a hybrid or an electric vehicle?

@ J. Welf, the human experience is a wonderful thing, given our wide variety of preferences and values. Therefore, to each his own, but...

Having a car = an allusion to freedom (if one wants to ignore the high costs to ones wallet and the environment)

Fixed bus times = a reconnection to patience in today's fast-paced, instant gratification, pushed to go, go, go world. You must plan you excursions around a fix time, but I'm leaving work at the same time regardless of whether I leave by car or bus, so the schedule matters not. Maybe I'm spoiled by CDTA having frequent runs (10-15 minutes) for the routes that get me to the places I need to be.

Delays = more time to read, catch up on news, complete work emails or chat with that weirdo on the bus. Plus, if my bus is delayed, your car is delayed in the same traffic (unless you have pulled off the greatest trick in history--making those flying cars from Back to the Future a reality and can hover over traffic congestion).

The weirdo on the bus = another experience in life's kaleidoscope. Sometimes annoying, sometimes entertaining, sometimes informative, always of some value.

i was being semi facetious! - i wont say i enjoy my time on the bus but its not bad at all. Its just that... Im a car guy. i love driving!

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For a decade All Over Albany was a place for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. It was kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who could help you find out what's up. AOA stopped publishing at the end of 2018.

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