A lot of folks in Dawson County like their cars.
Not surprisingly, as Dawsonville and the surrounding countryside is known for cars — particularly the ones that once carried moonshine through the foothills at breakneck speeds or set qualifying records at giant asphalt racetracks.
But does the small but growing county with a greater-than-average appreciation of the combustion engine really have more vehicles than people?
According to the Georgia Department of Revenue, there are 28,072 registered vehicles in Dawson County, compared with the most recent U.S. Census estimate of 22,006 residents.
“We probably do (have more cars than people),” said Dawson County Tax Commissioner and former Dawsonville Mayor Linda Townley. “We have a lot of people with antique cars and show cars, and that may have something to do with it.”
A large number of commuters also could contribute to a high car count, she said.
The mean travel time to work for Dawson County residents is 34 minutes, according to the U.S. Census.
And, Townley acknowledges: “Yes, we do have a history with automobiles.”
David Chester, owner of local repair shop Chester Automotive, is skeptical there are more cars than people in Dawson County, but does allow, “now it seems every household’s got three or four cars.”
Chester also noted that until the economy tanked, the county had seen rapid development. Dawson County’s population, according to the Census Bureau, grew by 37 percent from 2000 to 2008.
Dawson County Manager Kevin Tanner said, according to state statistics, Dawson County may technically have more vehicles than residents, but not more passenger vehicles.
There are 14,869 passenger vehicles in the county, plus 7,554 trucks. The balance of the total is made up of trailers (4,609), motorcycles (976), and buses (69). The state Department of Revenue classifies all these as “vehicles.”
But just the total of passengers cars and trucks still exceeds the county’s 2008 population estimate by more than 400.
Considering the fact that, according to the Census Bureau, 25 percent of Dawson County’s residents are younger than 18, there are most certainly more cars than drivers.
Yet, that is the case all over.
Since 2003, cars have outnumbered drivers in the United States. Hall County, with an estimated 184,814 men, women and children, has 172,701 registered vehicles, including 101,642 passenger vehicles. In 2004, there were 237 million cars in the United States for 199 million people of driving age, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Affordability, modest interest rates and longer vehicle life spans have contributed to what may have reached a saturation point for cars in America, said Steven E. Polzin, director of mobility policy research at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida. Even the expectations of teenagers to get their own wheels at an early age have grown dramatically in the past few decades, he said.
“There’s some thought that to a certain extent, almost everyone who has the potential to use a vehicle and has the intellectual and financial capacity to have one has got one,” Polzin said.
“But there will always be the person who wants that convertible in the garage or that pickup truck for Sunday afternoons. It’s more than just transportation — not all cars are bought to get from point A to point B. There’s a lot of ego, image and self-expression in some of these vehicles.”
Chester, the mechanic, said whether or not Dawson County’s residents are outnumbered by vehicles, many of them aren’t being properly cared for in today’s economic climate.
“They’re driving them into the ground,” he said. “It’s no preventive maintenance, and drive it ‘til it breaks.”