NEW research released this month has delivered new insights into why young people are pounding the pavement and not embracing driving like older generations, with only 57 per cent of respondents stating it was important to them to be able to drive anywhere they wanted to go.
The 'Young people and walking in Victoria' study, which was commissioned by Victoria Walks and Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic) and funded by VicHealth, indicates that walking is fundamental to young people's lives.
The survey of more than 1,000 young Victorians aged between 15 and 20 found about two-thirds walk to reach their destination on most days and 85 per cent believe it is important to live in a walking-friendly neighbourhood.
Ben Rossiter, Victoria Walks Executive Officer, said young people have indicated they want to live in walkable neighbourhoods that are close to shops, work and public transport.
"Unlike their parents, young people are less concerned about being able to drive everywhere or prioritise living in outer urban areas with lots of space," Dr Rossiter said.
The research asked why young people are putting off getting a driver's licence. In 2001, 71 per cent of those 18 to 21 years held a licence, but that dropped to 59 per cent in 2014.
"We found young people are delaying getting a licence because of factors like the cost, time and difficulty involved and they are happy to walk and use public transport, if it's convenient. There is an opportunity to continue this trend of reduced driving into later years and reduce traffic on the roads, but only if there is investment in walking and public transport," Dr Rossiter said.
The research also looked at barriers to walking and found poor urban design, a lack of trust in drivers and a widespread culture of street harassment are limiting the mobility of young people, who rely on walking as a primary mode of transport.
According to the research, only 15 per cent of young women (compared to 54 per cent of young men) feel safe when walking at night, denying them opportunities to participate in public life. Many of the young women spoke of being harassed while walking and had concerns for their safety.
"It is very, very concerning how many young women reported cat-calling, harassment and intimidating male behaviour. We don't tolerate this in schools and workplaces and we shouldn't in public spaces. We need serious investment to address this issue," Dr Rossiter said.
Road safety was also a concern, with only about half the young people surveyed agreeing they can depend on drivers to obey the road rules and give way to pedestrians when required.
Lead researcher Jan Garrard said considering only six per cent of young people aged 15-17 meet the recommended weekly levels of physical activity, it was critical to make structural changes to encourage more people to walk.
"We found that young people's attitudes to walking were very positive, with 98 per cent agreeing it was healthy, but suburban environments that are difficult to walk around and with poor public transport leave many young people reliant on others to drive them," Dr Garrard said.
"At a time when young people are transitioning from relatively active children to less active adolescents (especially women), the research findings give an idea of what we can do to ensure young people can be physically active and healthy through walking."
VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said the research revealed what barriers needed to be addressed to encourage even more young people to get active.
"This research shows us that young people are clearly concerned about their health and want to be able to walk more as part of their day-to-day lives but things like safety and a lack of infrastructure can hold them back," Ms Rechter said.
"This research adds to what we already know of too many young women experiencing harassment and judgement, which holds them back from getting active. This is unacceptable and as a society we need to change."