Passport to nowhere

For many of my friends in Barcelona, it’s sort of hard to grasp the idea that a significant percentage of people in the United States don’t own a passport. A map from Grey’s Blog breaks this down to the state level:

I tried to think of a counter-statistic (is that a thing?) that would put this map in a cultural context for people who live in countries that are smaller than some of our states. I decided to look at driver licenses.

In the US, the driver’s license represents freedom and independence for teens who have to be driven to the mall, to school, even to work by their parents until they pass that road test. While European twenty-somethings plan their train itineraries across the continent, America’s young people are feeling the wind in their hair on road trips that depend on the location of gas stations instead of train stations. Without passports, an couple from upstate New York can’t go out of the country for their honeymoon; without a driver’s license, they probably can’t go to the grocery store.

According to the European Commission DG Mobility and Transport, some 60% of European citizens hold a driving license. I couldn’t find a statistic on this from the US, so I made my own using number of licensed drivers and total state population to get the percentage of state residents with a driver license (shown below) and a national average of 66% of the US population holding a driver’s license. (view data in a spreadsheet)

I know, I know, the data doesn’t show commercial versus non-commercial licenses, and it doesn’t take into account the portion of each state’s population that is not of legal driving age. But the EC data doesn’t either, so let’s just take both figures with a grain of salt.

I actually thought the percentage of drivers in the US would be higher. How is everyone getting from one side of Texas to the other? As a frequent Amtrak customer I know for a fact that the train system in the US leaves much to be desired. But I’m sure my perceptions of some states don”t accurately take into account, for example, public transportation in big cities – kids in Brooklyn probably don’t have to beg their moms to drop them at the movie theater or a sports practice.

Is there any value in comparing passport ownership and driver licenses? Am I just talking crazy here? Do you have a passport? Do you have a driver’s license? Do you have horror stories about carpooling to the mall with a friend’s creepy dad? What other metrics could we compare to put passport ownership in context?