Driving force

OECD Observer

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The rise of the car is one of the most striking aspects of social change not just in the past 40 years, but for the whole of the past century.

In fact, the world’s vehicle population grew faster than its human one during the 20th century, and the main reason that there are still more people than vehicles in the United States is that children generally do not own cars.

To put it another way, in 1900 there was one car for every 10,000 people in the United States and by 1996 the figure was 778 cars for every 1,000 people. In 1996 in the rest of the world there were 84 cars per 1,000 people – a level the United States passed way back in 1920.

But if car ownership in the rest of the world grew much more slowly than in the US – it took the rest of the world 66 years (1930-1996) to increase from 5 to 84 vehicles per 1,000 people, an increase the US accomplished between 1910 and 1919 – the vehicle population was still growing faster than the human one. Between 1950 and 1996 the non-US vehicle population grew almost four times faster than the human population, at an average 6.9% per year compared with 1.8% per year for people.

While we cannot be absolutely certain that the car population is set to keep growing so fast in the years to come, one thing seems clear: if we ever reach the point where every adult on earth owns a car, then parking will be quite a problem.

ECMT (2002), Managing Commuters’ Behaviour: A New Role for Companies, Paris.

©OECD Observer No 235, December 2002 

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