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US Vehicle Miles Travelled Dropping

Moving 12-month total of US VMT through March 2008. Click to enlarge.

Americans drove less in March 2008, continuing a trend that began in November 2007, according to estimates recently published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

The FHWA’s Traffic Volume Trends report, produced monthly since 1942, shows that estimated vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on all US public roads for March 2008 fell 4.3% as compared with March 2007 travel. This is the first time estimated March travel on public roads fell since 1979. At 11 billion miles less in March 2008 than in the previous March, this is the sharpest yearly drop for any month in FHWA history.

Although February 2008 showed a modest 1 billion mile increase over February 2007, cumulative VMT has fallen by 17.3 billion miles since November 2006. Total VMT in the United States for 2006, the most recent year for which such data are available, topped 3 trillion miles.

Additionally, the US Department of Transportation estimated that greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector fell by an estimated 9 million metric tons for the first quarter of 2008.

The estimated data show that VMT on all US public roads have dropped since 2006. The FHWA’s Traffic Monitoring Analysis System (TMAS) computes VMT for all types of motor vehicles (motorcycles, cars, buses and trucks) on the nation’s public roads. These data are collected through over 4,000 automatic traffic recorders operated round-the-clock by state highway agencies. More comprehensive data are published in the FHWA’s Highway Statistics at the end of each year.

Vmturban   Vmtrural
Travel on US Urban highways by month. Click to enlarge.   Travel on US Rural highways by month. Click to enlarge.




I still can't figure out why US VMT dropped 4.3% in March and gasoline consumption only dropped 1%. Everyone left their Prius in the garage and drove their Expedition? Something doesn't add up.



Part of the measuring problem might be that people don't buy gasoline every day for their day's needs -- so some of that gas may have been purchased in February. That wouldn't seem to be the whole story, but it very well might be part of it.

Gerald Shields, Seattle, WA

Maybe it's because people are planing where they are going doggydogworld. Right now, everything's changing.

Gerald Shields

It's going to be interesting during the summer months if folks with still use gasoline lawn mowers or will they switch to electrical ones.

Gerald Shields

Or even a better possibility: Maybe folks will buy Cordless Lawnmowers

Kit P

If you have the choice between a Pious and an Expedition, I would suggest that the cost of energy is not very significant in your budget.

Increases in energy cost hurt lower income folks the most. People with economy cars are driving less.

If you compare the value of energy use to the cost of other things in our lives, energy use is very inelastic. Are people driving less because they are conserving or because they lost their job? Is the factory using less energy because they invested in more efficient equipment or because the production was shifted to another country?


Has the number of people driving reduced, or have the same number of people started driving less?

Either way, I guess $4 gas is finally having an effect.


Remember that these are March numbers, before the price spike we had the past two months. That trend will continue.


The sampling period may have been too short. Basically, fuel consumption drop should be very close to travel distance change.

With more hybrids + high fuel cost, fuel consumption should drop faster than travel distance, not less.

That survey does not make sense.



I could see how it could make sense. As others mentioned - lower income families (with more economical modes of transport) are likely driving less while those with big SUVs and Trucks are driving as normal - honestly in the Seattle area with fewer cars on the highways I see the big SUVs and trucks more consistantly zipping down the highway at 75+ mph. I saw maybe 7 SUVs/Trucks for every sedan/compact car when I drove down to visit some friends this past weekend (a 40 mile one way drive).


Your point is well taken, but with many thousands larger vehicles unsold, I was lead to believe that their numbers, on the road, would also be reduced. Apparently, this is not the case yet.

If gas @ $4+ does not do it, the time may be right to add a progressive 5 cents/gal/month Fed. carbon tax before oil goes to $150/$200 barrel. Registration fees could be multiplied by 10x for vehicles above 3500 lbs.

Very rich people will always drive 380+hp, 3-Ton Hummers if they feel like it. All we can do, is to make them pay much more for it.


Please read the article and the verbiage under the graphs. The VMT graph is a 12-month average, probably what is called a rolling average. That is why the gasoline and miles don't match.

Sorry but even with the lower income = smaller car driving less it doesn't make sense. For one - hypermiling is all over the news. I see people driving slower all the time now. Still see SUV's going 75 mph but there are plenty of people clogging the right lane.

There are also people with choices in what they drive. Wife drives SUV, husband drives sedan. Wife drives farther so they switch at the higher prices.

Another example - guy drives truck 40 miles to work. Does the math - saves more on gas than car payment for new Civic Hybrid. Truck sits - HCH commutes.

These are my personal world examples - YMMV

Even if this wasn't it - do you really get 4.3% less mileage and 1% less gas would mean it was all 50 mpg cars off the road and 12.5 mpg staying on the road. With no change in driving habits. Show me a lower income person with a perfectly maintained Metro getting 50 mpg - there might be 2000 of these people in a country of 100,000,000 cars.

Now - truck mileage is down probably 5% and that is all diesel. So maybe diesel use is down 5%? That could give you 0.5% on the total VMT.


People are shopping less and when they do shop they mega shop at wally world and bulk buy. Our friends save over 900 a month bulking. Now even fairly well off people are going wallmart to dave money for holidays.


This graph shows massive change compared to its previous trend. The july 1990 to march 1991 recession (-3.0%) is just visible but this new behavior is really something. Currently the US is still not in a recession. The last 2 quarters were weak but positive. With evidence like this it could look like the US will hit negative growth this quarter and perhaps the next one as well. It isn’t over for the US yet but global economic growth is still quite healthy. It would help if the Chinese started to spend more of their huge surplus. I hope they see that this is a good time to do exactly that.


....with many thousands larger vehicles unsold, I was lead to believe that their numbers, on the road, would also be reduced.

I've thought about this a little. Even if we buy fewer SUVs this year than last, total SUVs on the road may still increase. This is because it's not the cars we bought last year but the ones we bought 15 years ago which are now being retired that matter. Extreme example, if all cars lasted exactly 15 years and every car sold up until 1995 was a 25 mpg sedan but from 1996-2007 saw a 50/50 mix between 25 mpg sedans and 15 mpg SUVs, then going to a 60/40 sedan/SUV mix in 2008 would leave a million+ SUVs sitting on lots but total SUVs in our fleet would still increase in 2008 as we replaced 1993 vehicles (100% sedans) with a 60/40 mix.

Confusing enough? Sorry. Anyway, IMHO our actual fleet mileage is not changing much right now because even with a change in mix, the cars we're buying don't collectively get better MPG than the ones we're retiring.


Please read the article and the verbiage under the graphs. The VMT graph is a 12-month average, probably what is called a rolling average. That is why the gasoline and miles don't match.

Sorry, NCyder, but the 4.3% reduction is a one month number. The graph shows 12 month moving average but the 4.3% VMT drop is March 2008 vs. March 2007. Note Easter was in March this year vs. April last year, not sure what effect that had.

Feb and Apr 2008 gasoline consumption was actually higher than 2007 according to early data. This is simply not consistent with the graph and I can't figure out the difference. Someone suggested the VMT drop is mostly diesel, which is a good thought, but diesel VMT is much lower than gasoline in this country so the drop in diesel VMT would have to be huge to effect the overall number this much. And if diesel VMT dropped so much why has the cost of diesel risen even faster than gasoline?

It still doesn't add up.

@ Kit P .. a Toyota a Pious ?
LOL ... some people are religious about that car! (with good reason).


Guys you are missing the point here (apart from Henrick) ... this graph is showing the vmt for the past 25 YEARS and this change in trend of such a massive scale has never been seen before in the past, even through recessions. The break in the trend has started 3 years ago, as no one would have anticipated, and is quite timed with the beginning of the exponential increase in oil prices ... and you are asking why the change in vmt in March is different from the change in fuel consumption?

"It would help if the Chinese started to spend more of their huge surplus. I hope they see that this is a good time to do exactly that."

Oh yes they are spending their surplus alright - on fuel subsidies!


Both China and India subsidize gasoline and diesel, so they're not seeing the price increases we are. I have read that some developing nations--like Indonesia--are decreasing their fuel subsidies to to the high prices. If China does the same, the demand picture will change significantly.


... this graph is showing the vmt for the past 25 YEARS and this change in trend of such a massive scale has never been seen before in the past,

Actually, this graph starts just after the last big drop in VMT (1979-82). Graphs from prior Monthly Reports show VMT dropped 4-5% peak to trough that time. We're not near that yet, but we might get there.

Interesting that total US oil consumption was down 4% this March. We had big drops in distillates (diesel, heating oil) which made up for the meager 1% drop in gasoline. If you adjust for ethanol, gasoline was down more like 1.5%, but still these numbers indicate our fleet-wide MPG is dropping. I'd expect just the opposite. We'll see if this trend persists.


I am seeing reduced speed, reduced traffic and increased transit ridership. I htink the numbers are about to take a big plunge.


People wont even blink about using gas lawn equipment. At worst the typical home owner is only going to use 2-3 gallons of gas to mow their lawns.


I'd love to see a breakdown between commercial traffic and passenger/light-duty.

How much of this is the transport industry becoming more efficient, and how much is ordinary people finding other ways to get to work (public transit, carpooling, etc.)?

Either way, good news...


MasterCard has been saying that the demand drop is about 5%, based on their credit card usage. That would be more inline with this.

I've really noticed less traffic on the roads lately. And people driving behind (fewer) semi trucks. I'm pretty certain we're in a recession now. Ford reports that full-sized pickup trucks dropped from 11% to 9% of sales in a single month.

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