Fall in young drivers 'due to lack of cash, not loss of love for cars'
Analysis of popular music suggests the decline in young drivers is not linked to a "loss of love" for cars, according to new research.
Regular references to driving in US top 40 hits indicates there has not been a "cultural shift away from an affinity towards cars", Imperial College London researcher Scott Le Vine said.
This supports the theory that the cost of driving lessons and car ownership is the main cause of the decrease in the proportion of young people getting behind the wheel, he told the Press Association.
Recent examples of the 535 songs found to have mentioned driving in the past six decades are Taylor Swift's Style, Beyonce's Drunk In Love and One Direction's Story Of My Life.
Mr Le Vine said it is the first time academics have analysed cultural references to investigate the issue.
Popular music was used for the study as it is often targeted at young people, he added.
At least 10 hit songs featured motoring-related lyrics in all but one year since 1996, the research found.
This is despite the proportion of 17 to 20-year-olds in England who held full driving licences falling to 31% in 2015.
The records going back to 1975 show that driving licence holding among young people reached a peak of 48% in 1992/94.
There were just four driving references in top 40 songs in 1993.
Mr Le Vine said: "What this study has shown us is that there's no evidence of a broad cultural shift away from an affinity towards cars.
"This is a bit of circumstantial evidence that supports the theory that what's going on is fundamentally driven by changing economic power rather than there being some sort of loss of love for the car."
The research was presented at the Transport Research Board conference in Washington DC, USA, earlier this month.
Steve Gooding, director of motoring research charity RAC Foundation, said: "This study reminds us that, for better or worse, the car has been a cultural icon through the generations and has a strong lyrical presence in some of our most popular music.
"What isn't clear from the research is whether the sentiment behind the references to driving is increasingly positive or negative.
"However other research, including that by the Government, suggests that the reason young people are not driving is down to a lack of cash, not the lack of aspiration to do so."