For Eighth Year in a Row, the Average American Drove Fewer Miles in 2012

Per-capita VMT in the U.S. Image: ## Smart Transportation Initiative##

For decades — through the rise of the two-car household, women entering the workforce, the growth of the exurbs — Americans reliably put more miles on their cars every year.

But no longer. Last year, for the eighth year in a row, vehicle miles traveled ticked down on a per-capita basis. The average American drove 37 fewer miles in 2012 than in 2011 — a 0.4 percent drop, according to new data from FHWA. It’s a small but significant decrease, continuing the downward slide of per-capita VMT that began in 2004, well before the economy faltered.

Total vehicle miles traveled by Americans (in millions). Image: ##

Experts attribute the reversal to a variety of factors including the gradual retirement of the baby boomer generation, volatile gas prices, decreased interest in driving by millennials, and the increasing popularity of walkable neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, population growth caused total mileage to tick up 0.3 percent in 2012. Total VMT, which has also seen a reversal of historical patterns, has declined three of the last eight years, for a net decrease of 0.9 percent over that time, reports the State Smart Transportation Initiative. Noting that total mileage has leveled off, SSTI advises state DOTs to rethink projects that add highway lanes — projects that are often justified based on faulty models assuming growth in VMT.

Deliberate policy can have also a powerful impact on VMT patterns. In Portland, for example — a city that has recently done as much as any other to promote modes other than driving — vehicle miles traveled began decreasing in 1996 [PDF].

Filed Under: VMT

10 thoughts on For Eighth Year in a Row, the Average American Drove Fewer Miles in 2012

  1. Sadly this country is still investing billions in new infrastructure to accommodate traffic that’ll never exist.  Even when the “traffic” does exist, it’s only 1-2 hours per day, 5 days a week, and the rest of the time the roads are mostly empty.  The vast majority of our infrastructure is built to accommodate traffic that either won’t ever exist or does exist for 5% of the time.  Roads should be built to accommodate average daily load, NOT peak.  If people so choose to cluster around a peak hour, then they deserve to wait in traffic.  It wouldn’t take long before workers started to demand staggered shift start times, rather than everyone all trying to show up between 8 and 9AM and the traffic would sort itself out, all the while requiring hundreds of billions less in infrastructure. 

  2. Clearly we could _build_ ourselves out of (some) congestion; however, politicians are reluctant to increase gas taxes even enough to return the Highway Fund to a self-sustaining level. In my opinion, it’s unconscionable to take funds from elsewhere to subsidize highways.

  3. We should have made a concerted effort to eliminate “rush hour” years ago. It’s costly even for transit systems which must have capacity for peak hours which goes unused the rest of the time. For most jobs, there’s no reason they need to start at 8 or 9. You could easily shift that start time hours in either direction. Better yet, maybe we should get people on 3-day work weeks consisting of 3 longer days. That would decrease commuter traffic by 40%.

  4. Or maybe catch up to the rest of the first world (which the US is falling rapidly behind of) and start working less than 40 hour weeks. A lot of places work 25-30 hour weeks. 40 hours is too much.

  5. Agreed. I think everyone should have at least three days a week off, better yet four. The five day work week leaves you too exhausted to do much on the two lousy days a week most people have off (and they spend much of that off time doing chores).

  6. When you’re unemployed, you don’t have to commute to work and can’t afford any road trip vacations.


  7. I have driven in 6 years. No money, no car. Just walk, riding a bike or asking a friend to drive me.

  8. its a form of slavery? what u didnt no? if u worked all week and did good. U were a good slave for the week. And if u didnt work u were a bad slave and dont get shit. but either way what u working for in the end it wont matter. i got layed of a job but my friend still works there. if i never went back to work again and he stayed there he would be in more debt then me. exactly. More money = more bills. Slavery to keep people busy. And school is slavery for the children. what the fuck do u remember from school. what did it really teach u. exactly. think about it.

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