U.S. driving is down 10 billion miles in May and 30 billion year to date

May 2008 saw another sharp sharp drop in vehicle miles traveled (aka VMT) according to the Federal Highway Administration’s monthly report on “Traffic Volume Trends.” This follows a 4.5 billion mile drop in April and “the sharpest yearly drop for any month in FHWA history” in March (see here).

The moving 12-month trend-line is startling and suggests $4 a gallon is the first (but not the last) genuine tipping point for U.S. drivers:


I wonder what $7 gas by 2010 will do to VMT.

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8 Responses to U.S. driving is down 10 billion miles in May and 30 billion year to date

  1. JCH says:

    Just me, but without the subprime mess, I think US drivers would have raced right through 4 bucks a gallon. After all, they raced right through $3.50, $3.65, etc.

    This is more about subprime than it is about 4 bucks.

    In a great economy, what is 4 bucks? At 4 bucks many people would go for better mileage vehicles, but would drive just as much, and perhaps more.

  2. llewelly says:

    There are many things other than gas which are limiting US drivers spending money. JCH mentioned the subprime scam loan meltdown. I’ll mention the recent rise in cost of food, and the drops in employment rates and wages.

  3. Paul K says:

    It would be interesting to know how much of the reduction is truck miles and if there is a parallel increase in railroad cartage. A billion sounds like a lot of miles, but with 100,000,000 million vehicles it’s only 10 miles apiece.

    The gas tipping point was below $3.50. You’ll notice the miles driven chart levels off around 2004. Unlike climate science where 15 years or more are required to identify a trend, in driving miles I think we can safely say people started watching their driving long before gas hit $4.

    Many have waited for a gas price high enough to force use of alternatives. Wait no longer. That price has long been reached. Ford, General Motors and Toyota quickly sell every hybrid they produce. Cities are snapping up hybrid buses. The alternative automotive revolution is here and consumers are eager for the new products.

  4. I just read an article in the NY Times where a guy figures that he would only be spending $50 more for a family vacation from LA to Vegas.

    Paul K, I really think these miles are saved by the cross-country truck drivers who can’t afford to fill their huge tanks before making drop-offs.

  5. paulm says:

    I think US citizens are becoming more aware of AGW and are trying to do something about it….

    Does this graph predict a recession?

  6. Ronald says:

    That’s all interesting speculation on why the numbers are down. There were little blips in total mileage during the 2001 recession? and the 1990 recessions, but nothing like what’s going on now.

    The question to ask is what would happen if all those vehicles were PHEV’s. Electricity to charge the vehicle being 3 to 4 times cheaper than what people are paying now for gasoline, the PHEV’ers would have less of a reason to cut down on mileage than people have now. They might then drive more than the projections and be more a burden on the electrical system than thought.

  7. Dennis says:

    I read in today’s NYT that, because the drop in driving is causing less Federal taxes to go into the transportation trust fund, the Bush administration is considering taking money from the mass transit fund and using it for roads. With $4/gallon gasoline, we need more money for public transit — not less!

  8. charlie says:

    don’t believe the hype about the drop in federal gas taxes. Even if we have a 10% drop in VMT, then we need a 10% hike in the federal gas tax: a whopping two cents per gallon.

    And the DOT numbers are suspect as well. They are based on hourly traffic count data collected from “4,000 continuous traffic counting locations nationwide”. I can see hundreds of problems with this collection of data. I suspect the VMT trends are just a reflection of a few workers taking public transit or car pooling.