U.S. driving down 4.5 billion miles in April

April 2008 saw another sharp drop in vehicle miles traveled (aka VMT) according to the Federal Highway Administration’s monthly report on “Traffic Volume Trends.” This follows “the sharpest yearly drop for any month in FHWA history” in March (see here).

I was compelled to blog on this because of the incredibly astute media coverage by AFP, “worldwide news agency,” which wins the “Duh!” award for the month:

Observers surmise a possible link between the declining number of miles driven and rising US gasoline prices.

Wouldn’t want the ever-cautious media to leap to any conclusions. [Note to AFP: Observers surmise a possible link between the declining number of readers for big media and the rising blandness of your/their coverage.]

As it becomes increasingly clear that high gasoline prices are not a fluke, Americans are adjusting their driving habits. The longer prices stay high — or go even higher — the more people will start to make permanent adjustments in their driving — and then, ultimately, in where they live and so on.

Here are the details from the April report:

In April 2008, Americans drove 245.9 billion milles, compared to 250.3 billion in April 2007. Indeed, the April 2008 figure is lower than the April 2004 figure. To see just how remarkable that is, look at the annual vehicle-distance traveled data (in billions of miles) since 1983 (this is a moving 12-month total):


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11 Responses to U.S. driving down 4.5 billion miles in April

  1. Eric G says:

    Sorry to get off subject, but do you have any idea how they develop these VMT numbers?

  2. Sam says:

    Joe- Isn’t this a good argument that carbon pricing is the fastest way to drive immediate changes consumers cahnges & corporate action?

  3. Joe says:

    Sam — No, because every $200 a ton of carbon equals only a dollar of gasoline. This is too weak a signal.

  4. David B. Benson says:

    For $200 per ton of carbon we can afford to sequester the carbon in carbon landfills as biochar or torrified wood.

    And have about $100 per tone, or so, left over for other purposes. Such as sequestering an additional ton.

  5. Steve says:


    More related to your excellent piece in Nature than this particular topic, do you happen to know whether anyone has introduced a single-issue bill in Congress calling for the flat prohibition upon construction of any new “dirty coal” power plants in the US?

    Congress has to start somewhere, and legislating to establish future compliance targets, setting up complex cap-and-trade regs and markets, and just simply taking on too many vested monied interests in trying to enact a single 694-page bill is not going to get us anywhere.


  6. Ecostew says:

    And McCain’s response – what he hopes to be another one of his election-winning non-solutions i.e., offshore drilling will drive near-term costs down just because we decide to do it.

  7. hapa says:

    joe it would be very very interesting to adjust that chart per capita.

  8. David O'Connor says:

    Steve, is this what you’re looking for?

    H.R 5575: Moratorium on Uncontrolled Power Plants Act of 2008

    To require new coal-fired electric generating units to use state-of-the-art control technology to capture and permanently sequester carbon dioxide emissions, and for other purposes.

  9. Ecostew says:

    From FactCheck.Org

    McCain’s Power Outage
    June 20, 2008
    Contradictions and misstatements short-circuit McCain’s energy policy pronouncements.
    McCain has spent the week focusing on energy policy, making some surprising, and inaccurate, statements.

    Among them:

    He said that ending a moratorium on offshore oil drilling “would be very helpful in the short term in resolving our energy crisis.” But according to a government report, offshore oil wouldn’t have much of an impact on supply or prices until 2030.

    McCain tried to paint Obama as an opponent of nuclear power, yet Obama has said he is open to nuclear energy being part of the solution and has supported bills that contained nuclear subsidies.

    He has soft-pedaled the “cap” portion of his cap-and-trade proposal for greenhouse gases, even denying that it would be a mandate. The cap is a mandatory limit, however, and McCain even says so on his Web site.

    McCain’s new ad, running this week, rightly says that he bucked his party in supporting action on climate change years ago. But its images of windmills and solar panels are misleading in that he supports subsidies for nuclear power, which isn’t pictured, and opposes them for wind and solar energy.

    McCain continues to say that a suspension of the federal gas tax will lower prices for consumers, though hundreds of economists say he is wrong.

  10. David B. Benson says:

    Is it true that transportation fuel consumption has hardly fallen?

  11. Steve says:

    Thanks for posting that link, David O’Connor.

    I don’t understand why there cannot be, at the very least, a full-court press to enact this bill or something close to it (especially with the recent government report owning up to the link between global warming and extreme weather events).

    Citizens in almost every state are getting real-life experiences with incremental climate crisis discomforts and disasters from heat waves to water shortages to flooding to hurricane activity.

    There should be outrage among citizens and environmental groups that Congress and the White House are just treading water on the issue. We need some forward momentum and this seems to be a good and simple place to start.