What would a trillion fewer driving miles mean?

Despite a stronger economy and more people living in the United States, Americans drove a billion fewer miles in July 2012 than a decade early. The trend of fewer people driving, and existing drivers driving less started in 2004 and has yet to let up. Should trends continue, Americans may be driving a trillion fewer miles annually by 2025. More from Streetsblog:

There are good reasons to believe the current slowdown in driving may persist. A report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group in April showed that youth are leading the trend toward less driving. While the National Household Travel Survey only allows comparison of driving in 2001 and 2009, it shows that Americans aged 16 to 34 reduced their driving miles by 23 percent between those years. Meanwhile, youth are increasing their use of public transit, biking and walking faster than the general population. Changing patterns in the use of information technology and changing preferences for urban living may be major factors in these shifts.

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  • University of Michigan has also been studying this. Millenials are waiting or not getting driver’s licenses at all, leading to reduced miles driven.

  • Zachary Schunn

    Randy, you may want to edit your numbers. VMT fell one billion in the last year, not the last decade. And I see at most about 200 billion fewer miles projected… the 1 trillion figure is comparing 2025 scenarios.

    I’d love to see Americans drive less, but I’m not convinced cars are suddenly going to disappear. This chart only goes back to 1987, and I can’t find a chart going back farther (feel free to provide a link if you can find one), so it’s hard to say whether there’s a correlation with GDP/unemployment or oil prices. One could argue the recent dip was just due to simple economics, and if the economy recovers and gas prices fall (with new production methods and increased U.S. production this certainly isn’t out of the question) then the upward trend could re-continue.

    The youth trend is hard to ignore, and I think WILL prevent us from seeing the trend we saw in the 1987-2007 period. But with the advent of the electric/hybrid car and the natural gas car driving could get much cheaper, and with the advent of the self-driving car it could arguably get much safer, too.

    I think the mass transit trends are real and it’s worth investing in them… I’m just not convinced the car is going away any time soon.