I love to drive. You could say petrol and diesel runs in my veins. Whenever I need to clear my head or gather inspiration, I grab the keys and go for a spin. It’s not just about mobility, freedom, and independence; driving, at least for me, is simply a way of life. Traffic, potholes, and speed cameras be damned!
Imagine my surprise when I perused over the Why Driving Matters survey commissioned by Hagerty. The survey revealed that millennials, once thought to be less interested in vehicle ownership, are still passionate about driving their own cars, despite the impending arrival of autonomous vehicles.
Hagerty commissioned the survey in response to the rapid development of autonomous vehicles. The mixed poll of a thousand U.S drivers consisted of roughly 35 percent millennial, 26 percent Generation X, and 31 percent baby boomer.
61% said it’s often a positive emotional experience.
70% of respondents consider driving as “time for myself.”
79% of all respondents from ALL generations are still passionate about it.
81% said learning to drive a car is a rite of passage worth preserving; and
85% said it’s an important part of American culture.
Think Americans are the only ones? In a similar survey conducted by Telegraph Motoring and AXA Insurance more than eight years ago, nearly seven out of 10 respondents in the United Kingdom said they still enjoy driving despite rising levels of congestion, astronomical fuel prices, punitive car taxes, and incessant speed enforcement.
It is safe to assume people from all over the world are not fully inclined to pass on the driving chores when full autonomous vehicles become commonplace. In fact, Hagerty’s survey also revealed that more than 85 percent of people will always want the option of driving a car themselves. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that 79 percent aren’t willing to see driving disappear anytime in the near future. 66 percent said automated and human-operated vehicles could co-exist peacefully.
Protecting The Love
Hagerty has launched an initiative to organize and amplify the voices of car lovers by hosting a series of town hall discussions to engage the public and the media on the importance of driving. Autonomous vehicles and their impact on society was one of Hagerty’s first such town hall discussions, with Wayne Carini of Chasing Classic Cars and former General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz as panelists.
“One of our goals will be to work with policymakers so that years or even decades from now when the bulk of cars are fully autonomous, the act of driving is protected,” explained McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty. “We also want to facilitate the discussion about what driving looks like in the future – will driving someday be mostly a suburban activity? Will there be driving parks or experience centers? Will cars that drive themselves increase interest in the analog experience of driving yourself at times? We suspect so, but now’s the time to have those conversations.”
Car Lovers Unite!
We spoke with Lauren Witt, a Detroit-based Automotive Product Specialist involved with numerous consumer-focused ride-and-drive programs for global automakers. She knows firsthand how people react behind the wheel and is taken back by Hagerty’s survey.
“Honestly, I’m happy to see so many people still enjoy driving. It actually surprised me a little bit to see some of the percentages,” Witt said. “The thrill you get when you’re behind the wheel of a performance vehicle or an off-road vehicle is something that can’t be duplicated.”
In Hagerty’s survey, 85 percent of respondents said driving is an important part of American culture. Another 81 percent consider it a rite of passage, something Witt understands.
“I believe that going through driver’s training and getting your license is important for young adults. It not only teaches them a skill but also teaches them responsibility,” Witt explained. “For most, it is their first step towards freedom and adulthood.”
“As a child I could not wait to drive. I counted down the days until I got my driver’s license. Then when I was 17 my dad taught me how to drive a stick. So for me driving really was and is an experience and skill I love and take pride in,” she continued.
Autonomous cars may save lives, but Hagerty’s survey shows most people are still innately passionate about being behind the wheel. Witt believes that passion is not likely to disappear, even with the onset of full autonomy.
“I don’t think it can replace the love of driving but I think it can provide a new appreciation for a different type of experience,” Witt said. “I think it’s amazing the type of technology that has been developed in the automotive industry, and I’m excited to see what happens in the future with autonomous vehicles. But it could never replace the feel you get when actually driving a car.”
One problem with autonomous vehicles is how to keep those who love driving involved.
“That’s a tough one,” Witt acknowledged. “The best way would be to provide an autonomous or non-autonomous mode. It could be a tricky thing to balance.”
A Car Enthusiast’s Perspective
We sought the opinion of Peter Heffring, CEO of Formula Experiences at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Virginia. He is the man behind one of America’s top race car driving experiences, and we were able to get a taste of it recently. We asked Heffring how his passion for driving started and what led him to create Formula Experiences.
“I started going to track days 30 years ago but took up racing in 2012. Driving at high speed is the most intense mind/body experience and requires complete mental and physical focus – you completely forget all your troubles behind the wheel,” Heffring explained. “This love of racing and driving at such high speed was core in creating Formula Experiences. My hope is everyone can have this experience to stimulate their senses and feel alive.”
Hagerty’s survey revealed that 71 percent of respondents said driving is often fun even when they’re not driving for fun. This holds true whether behind the wheel of an everyday vehicle or track-tuned race car. What is so unique about it that people still find joy in the act of driving? For some, like Heffring, it’s simply the thrill.
“On the track, you are free to explore both the car and your limits. The unique part of driving a race car is that they have a far higher safety limit at speed, so everyday drivers can experience going faster in a race car and feel completely safe,” he said. “Our race cars, for example, are open cockpit with no artificial controls. It is you and the car with hurricane force winds, screaming engines, and the raw visceral feel from every movement of the car!”
In Hagerty’s survey, 61 percent said driving is a positive and emotional experience, something we have likely all experienced in our own cars.
“For many, it could mean freedom from everyday life, especially on a track, an open highway or winding mountain road. Driving is definitely part of our culture as we have so many amazing roads across America, and being able to drive is a huge milestone for many,” Heffring explained. “Driving connects the mind and body, brings the senses to life, and gives you the freedom to explore.”
Witt believes the love of driving will remain, although Heffring is on the opposite side of the fence.
“Unfortunately, yes,” he said when asked if autonomous cars will replace the love of driving. “For those that love driving, there is power and freedom in controlling the vehicle that will be lost.”
Autonomous vehicles will inevitably enhance road safety, but where is the balance between safety and freedom?
“Full autonomy is going to save lives, make commuting easier, and unclog cities,” Hagerty explained. “But these survey results also indicate that people, including millennials, are always going to want to drive themselves when they want to. It is clear people don’t want to lose the joy, freedom, and control that comes with having their hands on the wheel.”
“Being in control of the car is a different dynamic,” Witt added. “I’m excited to see what happens in the future with autonomous vehicles, but would love to continue to see people share and voice their love for driving – hopefully that will preserve this skill and experience for future generations.”
Alvin Reyes is the Associate Editor of Automoblog. He studied civil aviation, aeronautics, and accountancy in his younger years and is still very much smitten to his former Lancer GSR and Galant SS. He also likes fried chicken, music, and herbal medicine.