Americans continuing to drive less: a sign of economic weakness or a paradigm shift?

This is one of the data points that I’ve been following more closely than others.

While Americans continue to drive A LOT — approximately 2.22 trillion miles so far in 2011 — there has been a significant decline over the past year.

From the U.S. Department of Transportation data for September:

  • Travel on all roads and streets changed by -1.5% (-3.7 billion vehicle miles) for September 2011 as compared with September 2010.
  • Travel for the month is estimated to be 244.2 billion vehicle miles.
  • Cumulative Travel for 2011 changed by -1.3% (-29.8 billion vehicle miles).

The regional data shows the year-over-year decline most pronounced in the Southeast:

Here’s another great graph from a post about the data at Calculated Risk:

The total vehicle miles driven in the U.S. has now declined for 7 straight months, and we are well below the pre-recession weak. As I indicate in the title to this post, I don’t know if this is simply a result of ongoing economic weakness. I suspect we might be seeing a permanent change in Americans’ reliance on cars.