Who’s behind the wheel in the U.K.?

Hi, Elliot here. I work on the team behind Datawrapper’s charting code. This week, I’m thinking about driving (and not driving).

Although I passed a driver’s test while living in America, I have no license here in the U.K. I’m not alone in that — many of my London-based friends have never bothered to learn to drive. Living in the city clearly has something do with it, but could there be more?

The U.K.’s Department for Transport conducts an annual survey of English travel habits, taking stock of things like the average number of miles travelled per year, modes of transport used, and trip purpose. Luckily for me, one stat collected consistently since 2002 is the number of people with full driving licenses.[1]

The data suggests that young people are starting to ditch driving — particularly young men, who back in 2002 were among the most likely to have a driving license. Those around retirement age, on the other hand, are now much more likely to be licensed. That's particularly true for today's older women, who may be more likely than previous generations to have held a license in the first place.

As for those without licenses, when do they think they might get behind the wheel?

Brits’ ambition to drive tends to drop off in their 40s, by which point only a third still say they expect to get a license at all. As for me, I’m hoping for next year too — I just need to get the hang of driving on the "wrong" side of the road after four years of American driving.

That's all for this week — thanks for reading!

  1. Although the survey was carried out in 2020 and 2021, the Department for Transport says these are not comparable to other years due to small sample sizes. ↩︎