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Why U.S. Immigrants Drive Less Than Natives

Why U.S. Immigrants Drive Less Than Natives

The Atlantic Cities
25 November 2013

A recent study published in Transport Policy by planning scholars Daniel Chatman of UC Berkeley and Nicholas Klein of Rutgers suggests several reasons why a driving gap exists for recent immigrants and remains in established ones.

A large driving gap between U.S. immigrants and native-born Americans, called the “immigrant effect,” describes how U.S. immigrants drive significantly less than native-born Americans. Recent U.S. immigrants are twice as likely to commute by transit and one-and-a-half times as likely to carpool, and remain more likely to commute and carpool 15 years later.

Earlier theories about low immigrant driving rates are mostly driving data-driven, and Chatman and Klein arranged a series of focus groups with recent immigrants from India, the Philippines, and Latin America who had settled in New Jersey to gather more personal input from immigrants. Chatman and Klein found that recent immigrants drive less at first due to various factors including having limited money, having limited employment and travel options, residing in areas with plentiful public transit services, facing licensing restrictions, and fearing police (in the case of undocumented immigrants).

The research team also found that recent immigrants have much higher rates of carpooling than native-born Americans do, possibly due to living in ethnic enclaves or neighborhoods with other immigrants. Additionally, the focus groups revealed two recurring reasons for low rates of immigrant driving: feeling intimidated by the driving conditions in metropolitan New York; and sending payments back home, which made saving for a car financially difficult. Chatman and Klein’s study revealed that immigrants use cars more over time, and their findings support the notion that residential moves caused by job changes, access to child care or schools, and the arrival of other family members led to more driving. Though the driving gap decreases over time, immigrants still drive less than native-born Americans, possibly due to the growth of immigrant transit ridership or the adoption of early transit habits learned in the city.