One of the biggest stories not being widely reported: Americans driving less

I’ve written on this subject before, and I plan to keep doing monthly updates when the U.S. Dept. of Transportation Federal Highway Administration releases data.

From the info released today:

  • Travel on all roads and streets changed by -0.9% (-2.1 billion vehicle miles) for November 2011 as compared with November 2010.
  • Travel for the month is estimated to be 240.9 billion vehicle miles.
  • Cumulative Travel for 2011 changed by -1.4% (-38.3 billion vehicle miles).
  • Cumulative estimate for the year is 2,717.1 billion vehicle miles of travel.

There are more people in the U.S. than there were four years ago. Auto sales have picked up to some degree. The economy has been growing for about 2.5 years. Yet Americans are driving considerably less than they were before the recession. I posted a few weeks ago about a theory that driving is losing its cool.

Here’s an updated graph from Calculated Risk:

As you can see in that graph, recessions typically disrupt the total vehicle miles driven, but we’ve never seen anything like this. Is it just a sign of economic weakness? Or are we seeing a paradigm shift that will fundamentally impact public policy?

The decline is certainly not evenly spread across the country, as you can see from this DOT graphic:

In the detailed tables from the DOT, the decline in Georgia is much larger than in the nation as a whole, with a 3.4% decline in November 2011 compared to November 2010.

It’s going to be fascinating to watch this data in the coming months and years.