Americans still driving far less than before the recession

First, a disclaimer: Americans are still driving a lot.

And I mean A LOT.

In November, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that drivers in America traveled 238.8 billion vehicle miles.

That was up .8 percent from November 2011. As of November 2012, cumulative travel for the year was up .6 percent year-over-year. That’s less than one would expect from population growth.

And that slow growth leaves us far behind the long-term trends for American drivers.

Also, it’s worth noting that the busy Northeast saw even less driving last November than in the same month in 2011, as you can see from this map:

Screen shot 2013-01-24 at 6.46.11 PM

Typically, total vehicle miles traveled takes only small dip — or none at all — during recessions. Check out the numbers in this chart for other recession years, like 2001-2002:

Screen shot 2013-01-24 at 6.48.53 PM

So we’re still below the level of 2004, despite a population increase of somewhere around 10 percent in that time.

Calculated Risk cites a number of reasons for this ongoing decline:

Gasoline prices were up in November compared to November 2011. In November 2012, gasoline averaged of $3.52 per gallon according to the EIA. Last year, prices in November averaged $3.44 per gallon.

However, as I’ve mentioned before, gasoline prices are just part of the story. The lack of growth in miles driven over the last 5 years is probably also due to the lingering effects of the great recession (high unemployment rate and lack of wage growth), the aging of the overall population (over 55 drivers drive fewer miles) and changing driving habits of young drivers.

And CR also keeps updating this fascinating graph, with VMT expressed as a rolling 12-month average:

VehiclesMilesRollingNov2012 (1)

This rather dramatic decline/stagnation seems likely to have some significant public policy implications in coming years regarding road construction, gas tax revenues, and the need for transit and support for other alternative forms of transportation.

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