Friday, November 8, 2013

Driving Boom or Bust: The Decline of Annual Driving Miles Per Capita

According to a report recently released by, after sixty years of almost constant increases in the annual number of miles Americans drive, Americans have decreased their driving per-capita for eight years in a row. Since 2004, driving miles per person are down especially sharply among Millennials, America’s largest generation that will increasingly dominate national transportation trends.


Some skeptics have suggested that the apparent end of the Driving Boom might be just a temporary hiccup in the trend toward more driving for Americans. By the time Americans took notice of the decline in driving, the economy was in deep recession. For some, the culprit behind this decline was the poor economy of the last several years.

So the question became, would economic growth bring back rapid increases in driving?

This study finds that declining rates of driving do not correspond with how badly states suffered economically in recent years. On the contrary:

  • Among the 23 states in which driving miles per person declined faster than the national average, only six saw unemployment increase faster than the nation as a whole.
  • Among the 10 states with the largest declines in driving per person, only two rank among the ten with largest increases in unemployment.
  • Among the 23 states where driving declined faster than the national average, only 11 saw faster-than-average declines in the employed share of their working-age population.
  • Among the 10 states with the greatest reductions in the employed share of population, only two were also among the ten states with the largest reductions of driving (Georgia and the District of Columbia)

Click to Enlarge
Their conclusion then? In the view of USPIRG researchers, the evidence suggests that the nation’s per capita decline in driving cannot be dismissed as a temporary side effect of the recession. While certainly a contributing factor and an economic rebound could be expected to have some upward lift on driving, the recession does not appear to be the prime cause of the fall off in driving over the past eight years. Nor is it clear that future economic growth would lead to a resumption of the postwar Driving Boom. Policy makers can stop wondering whether American driving trends are changing. They should focus carefully on these trends, and start adapting policies to match them.