Four years after recession began, Americans still driving less

The number of vehicle miles driven is one bit of data from the 2007 to 2009 recession and subsequent slow recovery that has been especially interesting to me.

As Calculated Risk notes, we’ve now gone a record 44 months with the total miles driven not reaching its previous peak. And the numbers are going down, not up. According to the Department of Transportation, travel on all roads and streets declined 2.5% (-6.7 billion vehicle miles) for July 2011 as compared with July 2010.

Now, this does not herald the death of the automobile — we’re still measuring miles in trillions. The data may just be a particularly sharp reminder of the extent of the contraction in our overall economy, compounded by spikes in pump prices.

But I’m beginning to wonder if the recent declines (now coming close to 4 years) might suggest some subtle but important changes to America’s automobile culture.

More on this later.

Here’s another excellent graph from Calculated Risk: