Average Miles Driven per Vehicle Drop to 1992 Level: Automakers Not Amused

They’re engaged in a highly competitive and saturated market, dominated by finicky Americans who demand top quality, but who drive their vehicles less.

On the surface, we see this: Total miles driven in April on all roads and streets in the US rose by 2.5%, or by 6.8 billion miles, compared to a year earlier, to 279.3 billion miles, according to estimates by the US Department of Transportation this week. Of this total, 82.5 billion miles were driven on rural roads, including interstate highways, and 196.8 billion miles were driven on urban roads and streets.

For the past 12 months, the total ticked up to 3.23 trillion vehicle-miles. And that’s a new record. The Great Recession had caused a multi-year decline in vehicle-miles from the record in 2007. By 2012, driving started to pick up again, and by 2015 new records were getting hammered out (the figure for 2019 is the 12-month total through April):

Miles driven per potential driver.

So are people back on the road with their pre-crisis driving patterns, burning up ever more miles as they go through life? Nope. Because there are now 11% more people of driving age than there were in 2007.

In 2007, based on Census Bureau estimates, there were 233.2 million people aged 16 or older in the US (who were not in penal and mental facilities, homes for the aged, etc. and who were not on active duty in the Armed Forces). By now, there are 258.9 million of these potential drivers.

The total miles driven divided by this “civilian noninstitutional population” of 16 years and older gives us an estimate of the miles per potential driver. And this shows an entirely different situation.

The peak occurred in 2004 at 13,200 miles per potential driver. Then the average dropped year after year, for nine years straight. By 2012, average miles driven per potential driver had dropped 8.2%, or by 1,089 miles per year per driver.

And there has only been a tepid recovery since then, which started fading again over the last two years: During the 12-month period through April, the average potential driver drove 12,500 miles — less than 22 years ago in 1997:

Could the fading recovery of miles driven over the past two years be caused by the growing prevalence of Lyft and Uber? Statistically, no, because the Lyft and Uber vehicles are also counted and are also in this total of miles driven per driver, which adds up, given how much these drivers circle around to pick up their fares, and then drive with their fares.

Could it be that in the big urban areas, people are trying to live closer to where they work so they don’t have to drive, or have to drive less, or can use mass transit? Yes, perhaps marginally, because this is one of the big but very slow changes underfoot in urban areas: More people live in big apartment or condo buildings, many of them brand new, in dense and central locations with hopefully less brutal commutes.

And working remotely, where workers don’t have to come to the office every day, might also be starting to have a tiny bit of an impact. This includes the growing army of gig workers, and it includes people like me who run their global media mogul empires from their homes.

Miles driven per “vehicle in operation.”

On a per-vehicle basis, the story changes again – and more significantly for the auto industry. So step by step. First: The average age of cars and trucks on the road has ticked up to a new record of 11.8 years as of June:

Second, vehicles in operation. New-vehicle sales are languishing at an estimated 16.9 million units in 2019 – where they’d first been in 1999 in a horribly mature market. These vehicles are the new additions to the national fleet. Over the same period, about 11 million vehicles were removed from the fleet, either by being sent to the salvage yard or by being exported to other countries. And the total number of vehicles on the road has risen by the difference, 5.9 million units over the past 12 months, to a record 278.3 million vehicles:

Third, miles driven per vehicle in operation: Given that total miles driven rose only slightly and vehicles in operation rose more sharply, miles driven per vehicle in operation (red line) dropped for the third year in a row, to just 11,600 miles per vehicle for the 12-month period. This was below the level of 1992. I added miles driven per potential driver (blue line) to show how they are now diverging:

This explains in part why the average age per vehicle keeps ticking up: Yes, quality has been improving, and vehicles last longer; but also, they’re being driven less per year!

Vehicles wear out mostly through usage – by mileage and by driving conditions – rather than by sitting in a garage. If you drive 1,000 miles less per year, over 10 years, there are 10,000 fewer miles on the vehicle, and that may add another six months to a year to the vehicle’s useful life.

And that’s a mega problem for the auto industry. Automakers are engaged in hand-to-hand combat with other automakers, in a highly competitive market, dominated by finicky American consumers who demand top quality, but who drive their vehicles less, and whose vehicles on average continue to get older than ever before. And each new vehicle that rolls off the car carrier onto the dealer’s lot competes with an ever-larger number of often low-mileage used vehicles.

It’s part of Carmageddon, but consumers demand it. Read…  Average Age of Vehicles Sets Record, New-Vehicle Sales Drop to Where They Were 20 Years Ago. What Are Automakers Doing?

Enjoy reading WOLF STREET and want to support it? Using ad blockers – I totally get why – but want to support the site? You can donate “beer money.” I appreciate it immensely. Click on the beer mug to find out how:

Would you like to be notified via email when WOLF STREET publishes a new article? Sign up here.

 

  87 comments for “Average Miles Driven per Vehicle Drop to 1992 Level: Automakers Not Amused

  1. Bill from Australia
    Jun 29, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    Cars gave baby boomers freedoms that previous generations did not have,todays generation can travel the world by accessing their mobile device ,with no parking or other running costs .Different times, different priorities.

    • sum eigenvalue
      Jun 30, 2019 at 9:00 am

      In the 1970’s I could buy a car for $200, with no insurance required, a motorycycle for $15.
      All through high-school I had 3 autos, and 4 motorcycles, changed almost daily.
      The problem IMHO today is that it ain’t ‘fun’ anymore to drive, traffic sucks,and a pig traffic stop means certain death or asset forfeiture.
      I bailed USA some 10+ years ago, but when I return, and now I only rent, I drive as little as possible, and anchor my auto, where-ever I go so I can enjoy the craft-beer, and avoid the PIGS.
      Today as far as I can see is that insurance is $100’s/month for most, and the auto is an endless upgrade debt cycle with no end,

      The way to look at USA is that 5,000 companys are all trying to get their pound of flesh from the USA citizen ( trumps wall is a prison ), and of course logic ( math ) dictates that only 100 company’s can nab a 1% pound of flesh, so we have what we have is that most American’s fall behind 10X more than they get-ahead.

      Then go ahead and ‘Ask’, why they don’t have time/money to drive?

      • elysianfield
        Jun 30, 2019 at 12:23 pm

        Sum,

        …Hemorrhoids…?

    • joe saba
      Jun 30, 2019 at 9:47 am

      our 18 year old daughter has newest vehicle
      she paid cash for used 2011 because her new job means lots of commuting to work and school
      mine is 2001 and will be keeping another 10 years
      only 240,000 on my diesel

    • Mark Richardson
      Jul 4, 2019 at 4:37 pm

      That isn’t really true. Many members of the Greatest Generation owned cars in their teens and 20s. My dad was born in 1929, was the son of middle-class parents, lived in suburban Boston, and he owned a 1934 Ford when he was a senior in high school in 1947. Lots of the kids at his high school owned cars then.

      What is killing car sales as well as increasing average miles driven is the fact that our minimum wage hasn’t risen in a decade. In-fact since 1981 our minimum wage has only been raised 6 times, and today the retail purchasing power of the average American’s income is just 1/3rd of what it was in 1980.

      Moreover free trade has murdered our middle-class across 1/3rd of America. Back in the 1970s Metro-Detroit had about 50 car plants, the largest of which employed over 40,000 workers at middle-class wages. Today that plant and 45 others are closed. Most were moved offshore to save a buck.

      In 1976 when I attended Western Michigan University their undergrad tuition cost $30/credit-hour and minimum wage was $2 30/hour.

      Last fall WMU charged $455/credit-hour, 15.166 times what they charged in 1976, but our minimum wage is only up by 315% since then to cover the much-larger increase in tuition cost. Last September our minimum wage had less than 22% of the purchasing power against WMU tuition that $2.30/hour had in 1976.

      No wonder so many college students graduate with ruinous amounts of student debt today, eh? Just to achieve parity on the rise in the cost of WMU tuition our minimum wage last fall should have been $34.88/hour.

      It is little wonder that more and more Americans are forced to drive less, spend less, and buy fewer cars as our income keeps buying less and less every day.

  2. Jack P Lifton
    Jun 29, 2019 at 5:40 pm

    If Americans are buying less new cars, are buying more used cars, and are driving less what do these trends portend for the replacement of internal combustion powered vehicles by battery electric vehicles? I would say that the portents are bad. The US OEM automotive retailing sector (all cars and personal use trucks sold in the USA regardless of origin or ownership of manufacturer) are now trying to decide if they want to spend an enormous and extraordinary amount of capital to begin to switch over from ICE to BE propulsion. I predict that they will limit such spending, while they are determining what percentage of sales will be BEVs in the long term and waiting to see if the utilities will in fact be able to support such a large projected new drain on the grid while trying to decide whether they will convert to “alternate” sources of electricity. Its a perfect storm for both industries, and they do not have the capital to make any serious errors.

    • char
      Jun 29, 2019 at 9:57 pm

      The price of electric engines and batteries are going down so fast that it will be cheaper in ten years for car-makers to have an (ICE+Generator+small battery+ e-axes) than to have an (ICE+automatic). Upselling then to a 20 (probably more) miles plugin radius would be trivial. But that is the battery size that hits utilities hardest

      • nicko2
        Jun 30, 2019 at 6:35 am

        Also…. Electric engines have way fewer moving parts than ICE. ERGO…less maintainence.

        • RepubAnon
          Jun 30, 2019 at 9:10 am

          A friend of mine used to have a job maintaining forklifts. His employer had a mix of electric and internal combustion (propane) engines (“ICEs”).

          The ICE forklifts required oil changes. spark plug replacement, tune-ups…

          Every 100,000 miles, the electric forklifts had their wheel bearings repacked. That was the only maintenance required, other than occasional battery replacement.

          Electric cars will have an increasing effect on job losses.

        • Jun 30, 2019 at 10:50 am

          After an EMP destroys the electric “grid” perhaps then drivers will discover CNG, which is already embedded in the urban environment, while as a nation we become more urbanized. ICE energy storage is a minimal expense, while it is an outsized expense for an EV. The point of implementing new and expensive driving technology on a system which has reached peak miles driven can not be economically understated. Ergo when we have peace on Earth there are fewer reasons to travel to Mars.

        • char
          Jun 30, 2019 at 9:06 pm

          An EMP would also destroy all the embedded computer chips in a modern car so an ICE car would move either

        • Prairies
          Jul 2, 2019 at 10:58 am

          Char: Not exactly, the older tech with carbs would likely need a solenoid replaced and be back on the road as long as the part is sitting on a shelf somewhere.

    • Gert7to3
      Jun 30, 2019 at 8:20 am

      Good luck using electric vehicles outside of urban areas. My nearest large urban center is 150 miles away. Couldn’t do a round trip down there and return on one charge. My minivan would have 150 miles of range to spare after returning home. Doing a long distance trip? Not with a vehicle that requires a significant downtime for recharging every 250 miles. I can stop, fuel and be back on the road within 15 minutes or less. Just imagine the lines at gas stations if everyone needed 45 minutes for just a usable partial charge.

      A plug in hybrid would be useful for local trips, though many of my local trips are up to 35 miles, beyond the battery range of most plug in hybrids.

      • RepubAnon
        Jun 30, 2019 at 9:17 am

        Pity nobody’s thought to sell a small, towable generator suitable as a range extender for EVs. Sort of a lightweight version of the generators I see being towed to job sites behind pick-up trucks.

        A towable range-extender generator would convert an EV into a hybrid without the permanent added weight of a rarely-used ICE. Perhaps dealers, or folks such as U-Haul, could rent them.

        • Samurai
          Jun 30, 2019 at 6:39 pm

          That’s a brilliant idea! Would definitely allow to add range without the permanent extra battery cost…

        • Prairies
          Jul 2, 2019 at 11:02 am

          So add an ICE that is towable. Just admit defeat, then buy a hybrid or small ICE vehicle and accept the simplicity of the vehicle that has been in production for 111 years just might be refined to a pretty good science at this point.

        • Mark Richardson
          Jul 4, 2019 at 5:06 pm

          Harbor Freight sells a 4000-watt gas generator for under $350 today here in Denver. Or you can buy their super-quiet 3500-watt inverter generator for $769. It only produces 58 db while it is running full blast. Both have a 220-volt outlet capable of recharging an EV.

          You can even buy their 7500-watt generator for a very good low price too. Maybe put one in the back of a pickup and offer road service to charge-up EV drivers who run out of juice?

      • char
        Jun 30, 2019 at 10:08 am

        You don’t want to know the answer but rural areas where you live will just be even more depopulated.

      • Massbytes
        Jun 30, 2019 at 8:35 pm

        You had better tell all of the automotive manufacturers they are making a mistake as they all are going mostly, if not all EV. Ford is the latest with a partnership with Rivian, laying off 20 percent of the European workforce and announcing their future is electric.

        The top-end EV’s now have close to 400 miles range with more advanced super chargers than can charge at 250KW. And that is just today.

      • JohnnySacks
        Jul 2, 2019 at 11:16 am

        Proprietary battery form factors to keep us captive always to the OEM producer will insure battery packs will NEVER be standardized. If there were 3 form factors, or in a perfect world, one modular form factor which could be swapped out in a charging station as quickly as a fuel fill-up, this problem would have been over a decade ago. I’ll never own an EV without an ICE vehicle to use when we want to go somewhere meaningful other than the drudgery of day to day transportation. A road trip vacation to Montreal or Quebec from Boston in an EV would be a nightmare hell of sitting around in crappy $h!t hole charging stations for hours. Ski trip to VT? With several thousand EV users needing charges? Get fekking real, piss on that.

        • char
          Jul 2, 2019 at 8:34 pm

          A highway with a “third rail” and self driving (on highway) EV would be ideal for long distance travel.

  3. Old Dog
    Jun 29, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    “By now, there are 258.9 million of these potential drivers.”

    I presume half of those are in Los Angeles:)

    A couple of weeks ago I had to fly there and rented a car. Huge mistake. Got stuck in I5 hell. Got off at the first chance. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of those who stayed are still stuck there. Some of them may have died of old age.

    No wonder people want to drive less. In big metros it’s a colossal waste of time.

    • RD Blakeslee
      Jun 29, 2019 at 6:48 pm

      Seriously, an aging population may be part of the reason the average driver (older every year) drives less. I know it’s been true of me.

      • Marc
        Jun 29, 2019 at 8:03 pm

        I agree. I’m retired and drive 4,000 miles a year. With a disabled spouse, trips won’t happen.

      • Ed C
        Jul 1, 2019 at 10:03 pm

        Mostly retired. 7500 miles a year. Used to be over 15K when I was working full time.

    • Mark Richardson
      Jul 4, 2019 at 5:24 pm

      My boss back in 1991 told me to stay off I-5. Basically stay off every highway in Greater Los Angeles in rush hour too, which starts at 5:00 AM through 9:00 AM and evening rush-hour starts about 3:00 PM and runs until 7:00 PM.

      Back on Friday night of Labor Day weekend in 1991 I left downtown LA at 2:00 PM and it took 9 hours to drive to the Nevada State Line on I-15 only 230 miles away. I stayed at Buffalo Bills that night. It was stop & go almost the entire way to Barstow.

      Maybe next time fly to one of the other LA-area airports and STAY OFF I-5? I like Burbank Airport myself even though it has very short runways. Ontario Airport is a decent experience, Jet Blue flies to Long Beach airport also, and I have never flown to John Wayne but I have heard that it is a decent airport too. Friends don’t let friends fly LAX even though I am a local legend there.

  4. Petunia
    Jun 29, 2019 at 6:10 pm

    The GPS systems in cars may be contributing to more efficient driving. These systems show you multiple ways to reach a destination, maybe ways the drivers didn’t know about. They also adjust for traffic flows in real time.

    • Dale
      Jun 29, 2019 at 9:08 pm

      They do that! But the are by no means optimal. Once Google tried to drive me into a canal. Didn’t know any better. Just stupid.

      On other occasions, when Google said that the travel time was greater than 1 hour, I just randomly veered in the general direction and then after a couple of miles recomputed and saved 40 minutes off my trip.

      In San Diego, Google Maps always sends me to the wrong place — the Marine Corps Recruit Depot — miles out of my way, from a particular origin. The MCRD folks are used to it.

      In other words, Google Maps is more geared to having you obtain a ‘normal’ trip time than an optimal trip time. And in many other cases, it is just plain wrong. Hasn’t improved, as fair as I can tell, in 10 years.

      That’s just the way it is.

      • Dale
        Jun 29, 2019 at 9:18 pm

        In case it is not clear, the Google algorithms are at best defective. If you really want to get to your destination in the shortest time, you have to be mindful that Google Maps is not working for you. I’m sure it is optimizing something, but definitely not your travel time.

        • Paulo
          Jun 30, 2019 at 12:29 pm

          I laughed at your G maps examples. My neighbours had relatives visiting from France this spring. They rented a car with GPS, and proceeded to tell my neighbour that the way he wanted to return home was wrong…(lived here 50+ years). They overruled him and drove down a logging road 20 km before the turnoff, and would have driven into the sea if they kept going. My street is mislabled with one located 5 km away, and I always send people exact instructions by email how to get here after telling them NOT to use their map app.

        • Dave Kunkel
          Jun 30, 2019 at 4:46 pm

          Regular old maps have worked fine for me traveling all over the country by car, motorcycle, and truck for the last 45 years.

          I’m so old I not only know how to read a map, I know how to fold one.

        • Mike G
          Jun 30, 2019 at 6:03 pm

          The nav system in my car always wants to draw straight lines toward the destination regardless of relative speed on different kinds of roads. So it instructs me to take miles of surface streets from, say, Hollywood to LAX instead of a few miles extra to get to a freeway.

      • NoEasyDay
        Jun 30, 2019 at 2:17 am

        @Dale-

        >That’s just the way it is.

        Sounds to me like you have poor network performance, i.e., a discount data plan. You should download the “off-line” Google Maps for your region to your device when you are at home connected to your wifi access point. Then your network data traffic would be greatly reduced while driving, and note that your GPS signal is network independent. Lastly, when Google Maps has “traffic data” active it will optimize your route in real-time with alternatives.

        • Dale
          Jun 30, 2019 at 3:20 am

          Not a discount data plan. I’m on a premium corporate plan. It’s just that Google is an anti-premium navigational data plan.

          And, yes, I’ve had Google interrupt my travel with recommendations to remove significant time from my journey. But these were false– after I committed, Google recalculated and decided that my original travel plan (as opposed to their recommendation) was better, so I ended up wasting time (we’re talking hours as opposed to minutes).

          Everybody wants to make an excuse for why Google is better, but there really is no excuse. They are defective, at least in terms of navigation.

        • Ricardo
          Jun 30, 2019 at 7:07 am

          OK so I’m going to ask the obvious question? How do they know how many miles people drive on rural roads and city roads? OK if a car has GPS I’m guessing that information can be tracked but surely there must still be vehicles in the USA that don’t have GPS. Answer please on the back of an envelope.

        • Jun 30, 2019 at 10:13 am

          Ricardo,

          Like just about all economic data, this data is based on sampling. In this case, the data is collected “at approximately 5,000 continuous traffic counting locations nationwide.” So DOT samples the traffic flows at 5,000 locations around the country on a constant basis. The raw sample data is then combined with data from prior periods and used as a basis for the calculations.

        • Petunia
          Jun 30, 2019 at 1:18 pm

          Ricardo,

          If you have google on your phone, they are already tracking your location, and the location of all drivers around you using google. All they have to do is track the phones on the road to see bottlenecks and traffic flows.

      • Erle
        Jun 30, 2019 at 6:09 pm

        Dave Kunkle down the trail:
        I can beat your folding maps. I have a gadget with a rolling wheel from the 1930s that will tell you how many miles you have to go to make it from one point to another. You just trace the road on the map and voila! you have the distance. The other side is a compass in case you get lost.

  5. Tom Siedel
    Jun 29, 2019 at 6:10 pm

    The USA vehicle fleet size is 278 million.

    Do you know what the vehicle fleet size is in Europe and China?

    I wonder if those two areas are experiencing the same situation?

    • Jack Lifton
      Jun 29, 2019 at 8:55 pm

      The global fleet is estimated at 1.2 billion cars and trucks. There are more in Europe than the USA. Next are China, Japan, and Korea. China has been outselling the U.S. And Europe in sheer numbers for the last 4 years. China and Europe produce more than 20 million units each per year. With average car life globally now 12 years you can expect 1.5 billion cars on the roads in 2030.
      Europeans have always driven much less than Americans, and the Chinese make long distance trips on their high speed rail network, so expect cars to be kept longer and last longer.
      Some say that the electrification of the personal transportation industry is a trick by financial engineers to churn a mature industry.

    • gert7to3
      Jun 30, 2019 at 8:29 am

      China’s vehicle fleet is still growing because they were so far behind the west. If they are smart they will try to implement transit instead of individual vehicles. They already have horrific traffic issues.

      Europe maintained its passenger rail network between cities. They never gave themselves over to driving autos. They have better transit infrastructure within their urban areas and suburbs. There is also less suburban sprawl.

  6. Rowen
    Jun 29, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    When i was in high school back in the 1990s, it’d be nothing to drive 30 minutes to pick up a VHS at Blockbuster. Now, I’m too lazy to drive 5 minutes to the RedBox.

  7. Old Engineer
    Jun 29, 2019 at 6:33 pm

    You didn’t mention that fewer young people are driving than ever. Partly this is the cost, partly that many are moving to big cities where public transportation is available.
    But the biggest cultural change has come as states have raised the driving limits to 17 and 18. That is so late in the lives of a population that is maturing earlier than ever that they have to find other ways to get around, and more importantly, driving has lost its place as a transitional marker to adulthood. We couldn’t wait to drive. But we got learners permits at 14 and full license at 16.
    This change, the cost, and the concentration of the population in cities with public transportation will probably continue to reduce the driver base and miles driven.

    • JoAnn Leichliter
      Jun 29, 2019 at 11:45 pm

      Good points, OE, and probably far more significant than most people realize.

  8. Jack
    Jun 29, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    I am another “old dog” like above. We have 2 cars. We are both retired. 2014 has 24,000 on it. 2018 has 4000 miles on it.
    We stay off the roads until 9:00am. Get back off the roads by 3:00pm. It’s war out there until 7:00pm
    We don’t shop anymore. We go to restaurants for lunch only.
    We live 3 miles from the Interstate. Straight stretch. Always multi-car wrecks. And that is BEFORE we get to the Interstate. Then the real mayhem begins.
    Lots of people like me out there. When we drive on vacation we always take the old “Blue Highways”. Safer, scenic, saner. And slower.
    Before we retired our cars averaged 15,000-18,000 miles per year. Above cars were bought new.

    • HB Guy
      Jun 30, 2019 at 12:47 pm

      Jack, your experience closely parallels mine. I work from home, have a 2013 Focus Electric with less than 26k miles on it and everything I need is within 10 miles of my home. Any trip to the airport is done via Lyft, and I can walk to several good restaurants in my neighborhood or get home delivery from those that are a pain in the a$$ to drive to because of parking.

      The Focus Electric has been very reliable – except for the Micro$oft O/S used by the entertainment system – and the powertrain is warrantied for 10 years/150k miles in CA by Ford. Barring a major accident or unwanted change in my lifestyle, this car could easily last another 15-20 years. I also installed solar panels on my roof when I bought the car and generate 80% of the electricity we use. So overall, a very good experience so far.

    • Erich
      Jun 30, 2019 at 1:47 pm

      I came here to say basically the same thing. Both the wife and I are retired. We now do very little driving. Her car is a 2008 Honda Civic and mine is a 2012 Honda Civic. Her car has about 40K on it and mine has about 26K. Did I mention my job was about 3 miles from where I live. Now that we’re retired everything we need (shopping, gym, doctors offices, places to eat out at) are all within 5 miles of where we live. Both cars get regular maintenance and we have no plans on replacing either one. I also stay off of the interstate even if the local route is longer.

    • JohnnySacks
      Jul 2, 2019 at 11:29 am

      What’s sad is my wife is retired and I use mass transit so we’re down to under 7500 miles a year on 2 decade old cars but live in New England so the salt will probably render the systems on both vehicles unusable well before they wear out. That engine light is a death sentence, a black hole from which no disposable income ever escapes. Please China, Czechoslovakia, anyone, can you save us by developing an ICAN proxy device that sends continuous resets to the vehicle CPU while telling the DMV inspection machine that all’s well?

  9. Bobber
    Jun 29, 2019 at 6:54 pm

    The statistics are good for auto insurance companies though. Less miles per auto means less accidents (less cost). More autos in circulation means more insurance revenue.

    • John Bailey
      Jun 29, 2019 at 9:02 pm

      Revenues should reflect payouts, with insurance company making money on the float.

  10. David Hall
    Jun 29, 2019 at 7:07 pm

    The US is producing over 12 million barrels of oil a day not including natural gas liquids and refinery gain. This is fueling people’s driving habits. More gas is consumed during summer vacation time than in the winter. Amazon deliveries reduced the need to drive to a city to buy hard to find items.

    The Chinese are turning more towards electric vehicles than the US. China is the largest importer of oil in the world.

    I read a recent report that solar – large battery arrays might generate cheaper electricity than natural gas fired generators in some parts of the US.

  11. NotMe
    Jun 29, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    Our miles driven went down because of fewer visits to the shopping center. That form of entertainment has ceased.

    Other observations are that government workers are now on 9/80s more and more, reducing driving to work by 10%. Many corporate workers are doing more and more work at home via the internet. More and more companies are offering private busing to ease stress.

    Bus service is still just awful. Commuting in public vehicles is still abhorrent.

    • HB Guy
      Jun 30, 2019 at 12:51 pm

      NotMe, this is certainly true in Southern California. The AQMD mandates flex hours for most businesses/agencies with 50 or more employees. And that doesn’t include remote workers who rarely have to go into an office.

  12. raxadian
    Jun 29, 2019 at 7:42 pm

    If you can get somewhere walking in a hour or less, or riding a bike, doing so is a way to avoid traffic jams.

    I got tired of counting all the times I took a cab or someone drove me somewhere only to get hit by a traffic jam and have to go the rest of the way walking.

    Traffic jams happen way too much in big cities, so not driving if the distance is short tends to save time and parking fees.

    • RD Blakeslee
      Jun 30, 2019 at 7:45 am

      Not living in or near a city saves even more time, money and aggravation.

    • HB Guy
      Jun 30, 2019 at 12:53 pm

      Or stay off the freeways – surface streets in much of Orange County are frequently faster and not as plagued with road construction.

  13. Paulo
    Jun 29, 2019 at 7:47 pm

    Hey, don’t forget the stiffer drinking driving laws. Seriously, if people have a few pops they now stay home or catch a lift. I know I do. (Having a Crown Royal while I write this). Plus the costs of driving and wages not keepng up. Gas is still cheaper than bottled water, but I always think of the current price of gas per litre and then evaluate. For example I used to hunt…lots when I was younger. Now I crunch the numbers, add in the cost of license, tag, fuel, compare to buying from a store, and opt out. A town trip? Multiply need & purchase price by costs, evaluate, and then put off until next week. I can afford to drive whenever, but just don’t. It’s dollars literally going up in smoke; out the tailpipe. Plus, people know that unnecessary driving is bad for the environment and a waste of time.

  14. Satya Mardelli
    Jun 29, 2019 at 8:00 pm

    The drop in miles driven is probably a generational thing. Baby boomers are cutting way back on miles driven and the millennials aren’t even bothering to get a driver’s license.

    My neighbor (a Boomer) had a 160 mile daily round trip commute. After he retired his daily miles driven dropped to around 10-20 miles, if that.

    • NoEasyDay
      Jun 30, 2019 at 2:28 am

      @Satya Mardelli-

      >My neighbor (a Boomer) had a 160 mile daily round trip commute.

      Sounds like 10-steps forward and 4-steps backward. Expensive!

  15. race fan
    Jun 29, 2019 at 9:16 pm

    Since about half the US population doesn’t hjave $1000 in the bank, this tells me they don’t have the money for road-trips or extended touring vacations.

    I’m also wondering if you looked into what age bracket does most of the driving. As most millenials are content to stare at their smart phones all day, as a form of vaction, I would think that our inward looking myopic youth are content to do their road trips via street view on google (which certainly has cut down on some trips for me).

    Quite possible that the internet is a big contributor to the reduction in miles since I often use reviews and street view to make a decision on as to whether I go some place.

    • alex in San Jose AKA Digital Detroit
      Jun 30, 2019 at 2:07 am

      This – the bifurcated economy. I sure don’t have $1000 in the bank, and I didn’t get a driver’s license for a car until I was just about 30. I had a motorcycle/scooter license from when I was about 25.

  16. Brant Lee
    Jun 29, 2019 at 10:14 pm

    “The peak occurred in 2004 at 13,200 miles per potential driver.”

    And with good reason. Fuel prices began to spike relentlessly at this time. Drivers became aware that they could no longer travel carefree without considering the higher gasoline cost. Prudent drivers parked their cars and still do so to this day.
    Rural America was literally wiped out in the 00s by high fuel prices. Workers could no longer drive the 30-50 miles every day as before. Delivery by most vendors to small populated areas ceased during this period. This would account for a lot of milage that will not return.

    • AlsoInDenver
      Jun 30, 2019 at 1:30 am

      Things were definitely different in 2004. High schoolers in my suburb would still do “joy rides” at night all the time, whereas now it sounds like half of the high school kids don’t even get driver’s licenses at 16.

      Also in 2004, Americans still felt very much entitled to cheap gasoline and b*tched constantly about rising prices at the pump. I remember how everyone had someone to blame for rising prices – environmentalists, refiners, OPEC, politicians they didn’t like, etc., instead of coming to terms with the economic reality that supply was getting tighter while demand surged. People eventually changed their habits, and now people avoid driving more than ever.

      I was one of those people in 2006 who thought that we were barreling straight towards a scary post-peak oil world; I would have never believed that things would still be humming along just fine in 2019. I think the key thing that’s happened though, is that we’ve been tackling the problem from the demand side. All of the reasons discussed by commenters here (apps, mass transit, congestion as a deterrent, online shopping, telecommuting, high schoolers not driving, etc.) have worked together to greatly reduce our fuel consumption.

      • HB Guy
        Jun 30, 2019 at 1:02 pm

        AlsoInDenver, much of what you say is true, but a large proportion of the population who’ve purchased a vehicle in the past since 2014 seem to have forgotten how expensive gas was. Witness the ever increasing number of oversized pickups or gargantuan SUVs hauling 50 lb. Susy to soccer practice. Many won’t be able to afford a fill-up when the next spike in oil prices occurs.

        Most Americans have short memories. Stupid is as stupid does.

        • Erich
          Jun 30, 2019 at 1:59 pm

          Yes. Wait until oil prices soar again. A little war/big war in the middle east will due just that. The oil refineries in Saudi Arabia make for on heck of a “soft” target. HUGE SUV’s and pickup trucks are only economical when gas prices are cheap. This is something that will come back and bite Ford in the ass down the road.

        • Michael Fiorillo
          Jun 30, 2019 at 4:40 pm

          And with “domestic” producers shifting away from sedans to energy-guzzlers like SUVs and pick-ups, the next oil shock will be devastating for them.

    • Juanfo
      Jul 1, 2019 at 12:36 pm

      That was when everything changed. People discovered and learned to drive less.

  17. Iamafan
    Jun 30, 2019 at 4:55 am

    Congestion pricing and expensive tolls are just a few hassles that make driving less enjoyable. Aside from the failing malls and towns that have all the same stores, there’s less reason to go anywhere. We had to almost force our youngest son to drive. I think things are really different now.

  18. nicko2
    Jun 30, 2019 at 6:39 am

    Good. 60 years of ‘highways, endless low density suburbia, shopping malls, and two cars in every garage’ was never sustainable. Best to adapt, the Internet of things is changing our entire civilization.

  19. TyGR
    Jun 30, 2019 at 7:37 am

    How much of this is due to congestion in the major cities where the jobs are, or the infrastructure that gets worse every year? Population growth?

    Also less jobs in the forgotten rural areas where its easy to put on some serious miles.

  20. Augusto
    Jun 30, 2019 at 7:43 am

    On a different note, this is one of reasons I am fairly cynical about carbon reduction. Cars, furnaces, electric appliances are all much more efficient than they used to be. The problem in the case of autos is we have more and more people, who all want cars, and when they get wealthy, they want more cars (a play car), heck when they are poor, they seem to want two or three junkers around. When I was a kid a lot of families only had one car, now everyone in the household over 16 has their own. Wolf, I had vaguely thought with all the fuel efficient cars on the road, hybrids (practically every taxi in our city is now a hybrid), mini Cars To Go, Tesla’s,and other electric vehicles that at some point demand for gasoline might fall….but then I recall that my city is growing 2-3% a year and has doubled in size since I moved here 30 years ago, and they all want stuff, and they all want cars….

    • Nicko2
      Jun 30, 2019 at 9:14 am

      That’s the thing, people don’t need to ‘own’ any more, indeed, many don’t want to. Ride-sharing, ride-hailing apps…rise of autonomous cars, everything linked in with sophisticated databases, algorithms, and AI. This is the future, and where all growth is taking place right now.

  21. Kent
    Jun 30, 2019 at 7:48 am

    It would be interesting to see the miles of paved lanes per population statistic. Driving is generally a horrible experience. There’s a reason car commercials don’t show you stopped in a traffic jam between a couple of tractor trailers on a 6 lane highway.

    You’d think the CEOs of GM and Ford would be leading the charge for a massive infrastructure bill.

  22. Laughing Eagle
    Jun 30, 2019 at 9:30 am

    Kent I agree.

  23. Senecas Cliff
    Jun 30, 2019 at 10:11 am

    Its simple, 2000 is the year that the real wages ( in constant dollars) starting to decline for the average wage earner, but the costs of each mile of automobile transportation did not decline. So from then on each mile driven has taken a larger and larger portion of the average workers paycheck, thus most people can afford to drive fewer miles.

  24. Dagny
    Jun 30, 2019 at 10:34 am

    I’m one of “those people”. I have a 1997 Jeep with 130K miles on it. I’ve maintained it and it runs fine, though the paint and interior are showing its age. It’s great driving a paid for vehicle! Plus the state I live in, Arizona, charges more per year to license newer vehicles based on the book value thereof. And sales tax here is close to 10% which drives up the cost of a new, overpriced car.

  25. Gorbachev
    Jun 30, 2019 at 10:47 am

    I some times take an Uber.
    It takes me right to my destination.Whenever I take my own car It seems that I make three stops along the way.

  26. CoCosAb
    Jun 30, 2019 at 11:42 am

    The United States remains the world’s top oil consumer, averaging 20.5 million BPD in 2018.

    Climate… What… Change?

  27. unit472
    Jun 30, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    I can think of some other factors impinging on motorist mileage. While California and a few other states may allow illegal immigrants to get drivers licenses I know Florida doesn’t and I doubt Texas does either. Florida will arrest you and turn you over to ICE now too so illegals are careful about hopping in the 20 year old junker after a few beers and hitting the highway.

    Then there is driving while poor. States suspend drivers licenses if you don’t pay your court fines. With license plate scanners deployed to local police forces you won’t last long with a suspended license if you try and drive to work. Just rack up another fine you can’t pay.

    Finally there is average age. Its over 38 now in the US and amongst the native born even higher. I stopped going out as much when I was in my thirties and long road trips were replaced by air travel. I might not be unusual in that regard.

  28. gunther
    Jun 30, 2019 at 4:23 pm

    Another statistic looks more dire:

    https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=A103600001&f=M
    Its from the government and shows fuel use decreased starting 2008 to less then half the pre crisis level. Since then the consumption is constant on s low level. Can anybody explain the diffetence?

    • Jun 30, 2019 at 11:45 pm

      The metric in the chart you linked is “retail sales” by refiners, such as Citgo-refined gasoline being sold at Citgo gas stations. It covers only a small part of total US gasoline sales. Here is a more complete measure and it shows no such decline at all. It shows that total US gasoline sales hit a record in 2016 and have remained at this record level since then:

      https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=pet&s=mgfupus1&f=m

      • gunther
        Jul 1, 2019 at 1:30 am

        Thank you, i was loiking for an explanation for a long time.

  29. michael Earussi
    Jun 30, 2019 at 4:54 pm

    What’s happening now is nothing compared to when fully autonomous cars hit the road. In the city with cheap taxi service they’ll be no need to own a car at all. I can easily see a 50% reduction of car ownership in the city within a decade of auto taxis intro. And a 50% reduction in car ownership will kill a lot of car companies.

    This will also hit hard car dealerships and parts and repair shops as well as insurance companies.

    Adapt or die.

  30. Erle
    Jun 30, 2019 at 4:56 pm

    How about another round of “Cash For Clunkers”?
    The goomint was able to ruin many usable cars with that pogrom so perhaps that caused a dip in cars on the road.

  31. james wordsworth
    Jul 1, 2019 at 11:22 am

    Amazon effect. Why go to the store when the item can be delivered to your door. Sure there are miles driven, but on average per package probably fewer than if bought at a store. Wife buys stuff on Amazon, so never has to leave the house and no need for second car.

    • Prairies
      Jul 2, 2019 at 11:13 am

      Amazon and Youtube effect, ie: My 15 yr old monitor died last month, I got a free diagnoses from searching youtube, ordered $20 worth of capacitors with free freight from Amazon and had my monitor fixed in 2 weeks instead of spending $150-$400 on a new replacement. I only used $5 worth of the capacitors I ordered, they are so cheap!

  32. Gene
    Jul 2, 2019 at 3:38 pm

    I’m in N. VA. I enjoyed, up until recently, going south on I-95 and visiting the Civil War battlefields near Fredericksburg. However, the last time I never made it to Fredericksburg. The traffic was terrible. I was averaging 25 mph. The Garmin could not provide an alternate route, so I turned around still 24 miles short of my objective. I don’t know when I’ll try it again.
    On another note, I’ve been reading Cornelius Ryan’s “A Bridge Too Far” and Antony Beevor’s “The Battle of Arnhem,” both about the same 1944 battle in The Netherlands. When reading, I regularly look at Google Maps, the street view. It’s amazing the see the actual places (the bridges, the streets, etc.) without expending the dollars, gas and energy to visit. Virtual travel.

Comments are closed.