Driving Is Dropping In The U.S.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 - 03:38 PM

(Source: U.S. Public Interest Research Group.)

America's "driving boom" is over. So says a study by U.S. Public Interest Group, which found that after six decades of steady increases in drivership, the trend has reversed.

The study says the turning point came in 2004, when miles driven per capita dropped for the first time since the end of World War II. It's been dropping ever since. Total miles driven by Americans has been declining since 2007. (See chart above.)

As Baby Boomers retire from the ranks of commuters, they're being replaced by 16 to 34 year-olds, who drive about 25 percent less than they did in 2001 –a greater decline in driving than any other age group. Another study found that the percentage of young people with a driver's license has been dropping since the early 1980's.

That's partly because traffic congestion has been slowing commutes since the early 90s. And it's because young people are more likely to use mass transit and live in walkable neighborhoods.

The report notes that, "the driving boom during the second half of the 20th century was fueled by low gas prices, rapid suburbanization, and an ever-increasing number of women commuters entering the workforce," and concludes that "the number of miles driven annually will be far fewer in the future than if Baby Boom trends had continued." In one projection of future trends, the report says, "driving won’t ever regain its 2007 peak during the range of the study, which extends to 2040."


Comments [4]

TOM MURPHY from Still Brooklyn

I continue.
Fuel prices are not a perfect driver of lessening VMT. You must use $ corrected for inflation/VMT. This is the true cost of fuel for driving. If you look at this you will see that fuel for driving costs less now than during the oil crises of the seventies. Of course, this does not help confirm the reasoning of the authors so it is not mentioned.
VMT/capita is interesting and draws attention to the lack of VMT among the youth. It would not strenghten that argument to mention that 11 million 'illegals' are both young and barred from driver's licenses. That would be at least 3.5% of the driver-age population. Factor that in please.

May. 15 2013 01:38 PM
TOM MURPHY from Brooklyn

I wouldn't start rolling up all our nation's highways just yet. At least not on the basis of the faulty and biased conclusions of this report(US PIRG, not US PIG).
The authors cherry picked their reasons for their conclusions and obfuscated the stats(VMT/capita and not disaggregated VMT and driver population).

VMT has grown dramatically ever since Americans could afford to get behind the wheel, not just in the last six decades. Total VMT was one trillion(with a 'T') in the late sixties from 55 million in 1921 when they collected totals. It was estimated at two trillion in 1968 and surpassed three trillion in 2007. That rocket trip growth faltered several times: the Great Depression, WWII, the two oil shortages(lack of supply, not demand)and most recently after the Great Recession & World Financial Meltdown. The authors premise is that since the recession ended 'so long ago' the continued stagnation can only be explained as they deduce. The do not ever admit that the recovery has been a jobless-recovery which means less employment and less commuting. Not important.
Because the growth faltered they believe the Driving Boom is at an end. An examination of the most recent VMT indicated it dropped as it should in any economic recession AND HAS PLATEAUED. I think this is because the number of trips required has stop the decline for now. It is awaiting a return to higher employed to again rebound. Introducing VMT only hides what is going on to confirm the authors bias.
I too went to understand these numbers better. I examined a graph on Tuition Demand by Age Group. It should peak demand at 20-25 years, 50-55 years and surprisingly at age 80. I surmised that the need to pay off tuition debt is not fully understood. It averages about $30,000, somewhere near the cost of a new car. Needless to say financing a new first car purchase would be forestall by existing debt. Not clear is the burden on the parents(2nd peak demand) which might preclude a four-wheel gift to Junior on graduation, especially if the parents and the offspring are long-term unemployed. The third peak is interesting since I don't remember granny next to me in class. Perhaps the grandparents are doing some serious estate planning as requested by their offspring to wipe out Junior;s onerous debt. It all adds up to no wheels for the young, and less VMT.

May. 15 2013 01:29 PM
jf from reality

Diesel causes cancer. cars cause lung cancer, asthma, floods, hurricanes, and droughts. Containerships pollute 25,000,000x more than cars. Shipping, airplanes, and coal are the quickest earth destroyers.

May. 15 2013 09:13 AM
Aloysious Farquart from Whitehall MT

I wish this report did not so radically conflict with my anecdotal experience as a truck driver.

After 9/11 the most remote highways in the country where I would commonly not see one vehicle for 10 minutes were suddenly crammed with traffic at all hours, and that continued until I retired in 2005.

"The first thing we must recognize is that crashes are not accidents."
-Ricardo Martinez, M.D., NHTSA Administrator, 1997

May. 15 2013 07:58 AM

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