As the economy recovers, will we see the number of total miles driven in America return to its historical norms?
Or are we seeing some sort of permanent shift in driving because of the extreme nature of the recent recession, the increase in gas prices, and perhaps even a growing awareness that it makes sense to live in closer proximity to jobs, to choose alternate modes of transportation, and to combine trips whenever possible?
We won’t know the answer to those questions for a while, but the striking numbers of recent years show that Americans have significantly reduced their driving. The latest data from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation shows that the number of vehicle miles driven fell 1.7% in August compared to August 2010. In the South, there was a 2.1% decline. The 263 billion miles driven in August 2011 was actually below the 2005 mark and was more than eight billion below the 2007 peak. The rolling 12-month average remains about 30 billion below the 2007 peak and is also lower than the 2005 average.
Here is yet another graph from Calculated Risk: