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Distance driven in the United States: Did we reach the peak in 2004?

by Michael Sivak.

This article is the latest publication in a series examining recent changes in various aspects of motorization in the United States. The focus here is on distance driven per person and per household, as opposed to the absolute distance driven (which depends, in part, on the continuously increasing size of the U.S. population). The period covered is 1984 through 2017.

Distances driven by all light-duty vehicles (passenger cars and light trucks) were obtained from the Federal Highway Administration. The other data that were used in the calculations came from ProQuest (resident population) and the U.S. Census Bureau (households).

The chart below shows the distance-driven rates per person and per household.


The main findings (summarized in the table below) are as follows:

  • Distance driven per person increased by 40.9% from 1984 to 2004 (from 6,612 miles to 9,314 miles), then decreased by 9.1% by 2013 (to 8,468 miles), and then increased by 4.3% by 2017 (to 8,834 miles).

  • Analogously, distance driven per household increased by 33.4% from 1984 to 2004 (from 18,256 miles to 24,349 miles), then decreased by 10.2% by 2013 (to 21,866 miles), and then increased by 4.3% by 2017 (to 22,796 miles).


In conclusion:

  • Distance driven per person and per household have both reached their maxima in 2004.

  • Both rates are on a rebound since 2013, but they are still down from 2004 (by 5.2% per person and by 6.4% per household).

Michael Sivak is the managing director of Sivak Applied Research and the former director of Sustainable Worldwide Transportation at the University of Michigan.



Wonder if this includes miles driven by taxi services?
More young people and people living in a large city are opting to not buy a car, but still take taxis.


It may be DT's fault. As soon as he got elected, people started to earn more and drive more? Cheaper gas is another factor?


Ever get caught in "today's rush hour traffic"? I rest my case.


Yes Lad, rush hours traffic is getting worse year by year, specially during winter months in our area. A switch to e-vehicles will/may not help much.

The solution may come with many more public e-buses, e-trains and subways but we (users + governments + general public) will have to pay, specially for the very high initial cost.? Alternatively, a major increase (to $25+/8-hr day) for down town parkings could help.

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