Doug Short, a financial analyst who blogs at Advisor Perspectives, has taken the US Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Commission most recent data from its Traffic Volume Trends and combined it with population data to put together a great chart.
And the surprising bottom line is: not only has VMT (vehicle miles traveled) continued to drop in a trend that started in 2005, we're now in the U.S. back to driving stats of 1995.
As Short puts it: "Our adjusted miles driven based on the 16-and-older age cohort is about where we were as a nation in January of 1995."
As both Short and the Washington Post observe, a big reason for the drop is the fact that the number of vehicle miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) is falling pretty significantly, from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita—a drop of 23 percent.
The Washington Post notes that is also the aging of the baby boomers and the steadily rising prices of gas that are contributing to the shrinking driving stats. It is really the steadily rising cost of vehicle ownership, too. Gas is only part of the equation: cars cost a lot, sit around a lot, and cost a lot to insure and repair.
There's also the effect that ongoing urbanism is having - the city versus suburbs battle. People who do live in dense urban areas seem to be biking and busing it more instead of fighting traffic in their cars.
The interesting question is whether the trend will continue if the economy continues to improve and gas prices drop. Frontier Group, which studied the question, thinks the trend of younger people driving less is 'likely to persist'.