Individual Vehicle-Miles Traveled Continues to Decrease

Reader Contribution by Kelsey Mcclelland
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Miles traveled by vehicle per capita in the United States has dropped for the eighth year in a row.  According to the Federal Highway Administration, per capita vehicle-miles traveled decreased by 0.4 percent in 2012. While vehicle-miles traveled per person reached an all-time high in 2004, it has declined each year following — for a total decrease of 7.5 percent.

However, the decline in individual vehicle-miles traveled during 2012 was offset by a population increase; total vehicle-miles traveled increased by 0.3 percent. The same eight-year period that displays a decline in vehicle-miles traveled per person shows that total vehicle-miles traveled has declined for 3 years and increased for 5 years. In that 8-year period, total vehicle-miles traveled had a net decrease of 0.9 percent.  

Lower levels of driving have persisted through economic prosperity, recession and recovery; fuel prices seem to have little relationship with vehicle-miles traveled.  Some factors that may have influenced the decline include retiring Baby Boomers, lower enthusiasm for cars among Millennials, and more compact and mixed-use developments.

The travel statistics for total vehicle-miles traveled have continued to remain stable, suggesting that people will continue to rely on highways. However, the per capita vehicle-miles traveled decline suggests that more compact and mixed-use developments are making it easier for people to choose walking rather than driving.

Photo by Fotolia/Alexandra GI