Dec. 5, 2008 Young people find the prospect of driving cars more attractive than other modes of travel that are kinder to the environment, according to research conducted by a researcher at the University of the West of England.
Dr Tilly Line has just completed a PhD entitled ‘The attitudes of young people towards transport in the context of climate change.’ Dr Line’s work examined how young people are influenced by knowledge about climate change when it comes to making choices about how they will travel when they become adults. The study concentrated on the views of young people aged between 11 and 18 years and the findings found an overwhelming desire by young people to drive.
Dr Line explains, “Specific attention was give to how climate change considerations affect these intentions. Overall it was found that the participants have a general understanding of the link between transport and climate change, but when it comes to their attitudes towards different modes, they place higher value on identity, self-image, and social recognition than the environment. It is this that explains their positive attitudes towards the car and driving in favour of alternative modes. For example, the participants pointed to learning to drive as “a mile-stone in teenage life” - something that everyone does at seventeen. They also pointed to the car as a symbol of social status and the importance of their role as a driver in their friendship groups.”
Comments from those who took part include:
- "Limousines, they’re like a really special thing for like if you’re posh or you have lots of money. That’s why I want to have one of them." (11 yr-old female participant)
- "Me and my friends share lifts to school in the mornings. Now our friends, all of our group have actually passed, we take it in turns to drive places…we share everything." (18 yr-old female participant)
Dr Line continues, “Although it is recognised that transport policy makers are likely to require an understanding of the degree to which these values and attitudes are universally held among young people, it is suggested that policy aimed at reducing the public’s reliance on the car and increasing their use of alternative modes, should recognise such values, particularly in relation to soft policy measures (including marketing activities) targeting the socio-psychological motivations for travel choice. For example, one answer may be to promote cycling as a signal of success and ‘being cool’, rather than promoting the environmental benefits of this behaviour.”
“The importance of climate change shouldn’t be forgotten however. It isn’t the case that young people dismiss this issue, but more that they feel powerless to make a difference. I found that the young people think of climate change as being something that will not be felt until far off in the future and that there is little that they can do as individuals.”
- "There are little things you can do, but nothing that will change the world, because individually we’re only little people." (11 yr-old female participant)
- "I’d like to change it. But I know I wouldn’t be able to, just me. If I really tried I know that I would just be wasting my life trying to do one thing I knew I couldn’t change." (11 yr-old female participant)
- The participants also suggested that although they receive information about what climate change is, they lack information about what they can do to tackle it:
- "You don’t really get told what to do. …Instead of just saying ‘we’re polluting the world’, tell us what we can do about it." (11 yr-old male participant)
Dr Line concludes, “On a positive note, I found that a number of the young people welcomed the idea that hard policy ideas leading to enforced travel behaviour away from reliance on cars would lead to a change in behaviour. But that this would only be possible if walking, cycling and public transport was easily accessible and reliable. This was even the case amongst those participants already driving and it seemed to stem from the belief that such action would empower more people to attempt to tackle climate change through changes in their travel behaviour as everyone would have to behave in the same way.”
- "I think some people may want to help the environment but they don’t do anything about it but then again if they were forced to then they’d have to. …I mean eventually it’s going to happen anyway. It’s going to come to a point in time where there’s going to be a ban on cars or something …there’s just going to be no feasible way they can have all the cars on the road." (18 yr-old male participant)
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