It made sense when we first saw a sharp decline in the total number of vehicle miles travelled each month in the United States.
That was during the depths of the deep recession, so there were fewer people going to work and going shopping, fewer goods being shipped, and fewer Americans taking vacations.
A spike in gas prices in 2008 and then periodic subsequent spikes since clearly played a role in this changing behavior too.
The unevenness of the recovery and the squeeze on the middle class might also be limiting elective trips. I haven’t seen any data on it, but families that might have added another car to the driveway for their children might have delayed those purchases.
But it looks like some other factors are coming into play. Despite the facts of an increasing population, an improving economy, and moderating gas prices, Americans are still driving about the same number of total miles as they were five years ago.
From the Department of Transportation:
Travel on all roads and streets changed by -1.5% (-3.6 billion vehicle miles) for September 2012 as compared with September 2011.
Travel for the month is estimated to be 237.1 billion vehicle miles.
Cumulative Travel for 2012 changed by 0.6% (14.2 billion vehicle miles).
Cumulative estimate for the year is 2,213.4 billion vehicle miles of travel.
Here’s a map with the data by region:
And from Calculated Risk:
You can see declines during earlier recessions, but the line has always reverted fairly quickly to trend.