Americans still driving less — but will the trend hold with lower gas prices?

I’ve been writing off and on about the ongoing trend of fewer vehicle miles being driven each month by Americans. Since the last time I wrote about it, the data has been choppier, with both monthly increases and decreases.

The latest numbers are for April, when gas prices were considerably higher than they are now. From the Department of Transportion:

Travel on all roads and streets changed by -0.4% (-1.0 billion vehicle miles) for April 2012 as compared with April 2011. Travel for the month is estimated to be 247.2 billion vehicle miles.Cumulative Travel for 2012 changed by +0.9% (8.6 billion vehicle miles). The Cumulative estimate for the year is 939.4 billion vehicle miles of travel.

So we’re slightly ahead of last year’s pace, but that’s still well below the historical trend line, which remained pretty constant for decades — until 2007. Check out this graph from Calculated Risk:

With the population increasing and with GDP growing for the last three years, it’s hard not to think that we might be seeing some sort of fundamental change in Americans’ driving habits.

But it looks like that hypothesis is going to get a tough test in the next few months, as gas prices continue falling.

Here’s the latest from

Savannah Historical Gas Price Charts Provided by

I’ll be sure to follow this.

By the way, the decline in driving has certainly not been uniform across the country. Here’s DOT’s April map, which shows a particularly steep year-over-year decline in VMT here in the South: