Feds Report Biggest Drop in Miles Driven Since 1979

Posted: June 20, 2008

USA Today reports, "Americans drove 22 billion fewer miles from November through April than during the same period in 2006-07, the biggest such drop since the Iranian revolution led to gasoline supply shortages in 1979-80."  On paper, that is only a one percent drop in total miles driven, but the shift is historically significant.  The number of vehicles on U.S. roads grows by an average of one to two percent each year, so the cutback in total miles "means that many drivers are cutting back far more" than one percent. 

AFP notes that the Federal Highway Administration's data show "the lowest mileage clocked on US roads for the month since 2003. …  Most years from 1983 to 2004, with the exception of April 1990 and 1991, when the United States was engaged in the Gulf War, the number of miles Americans drove rose by several billion miles."

Some see evidence that the change may be long-term.  Marilyn Brown, professor of energy policy at Georgia Tech, tells USA Today, "I think the difference between now and 1979, when prices were comparable when you adjust for inflation, is there's a sense of sustained pain. There's a sense that the era of cheap energy is a thing of the past."

Kicking Tires notes a number of effects we may begin to see if the change is long-term.  "It’s likely that people will begin looking for housing closer to where they work to cut back on commutes. Traffic patterns may change as drivers adjust to less long-distance driving, and as the Federal Highway Trust Fund loses money from fewer people paying the federal gas tax, the government will have to figure out ways to make up for that shortfall, like increased tolls."

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