by Michael Sivak, Sivak Applied Research.
Total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by all vehicles in the United States vary greatly across the individual states. The latest annual data from the Federal Highway Administration show that in 2018 the maximum (348,796 million miles in California) was 94.5 times greater than the minimum (3,691 million miles in the District of Columbia). The top and bottom 10 states are presented in the table below.
Because total VMT depends, in part, on the size of the population, of interest in this study was the variation among the states in vehicle miles traveled per person (VMT per person). The calculations used the total VMT by all vehicles from the above-cited source (the Federal Highway Administration) and the resident populations from the U.S. Census Bureau. The data apply to 2018. The results are presented in the table below.
The results show that VMT per person in 2018 ranged from 18,072 miles in Wyoming to 5,261 miles in the District of Columbia. These two distances differ by a factor of 3.4, as compared with a factor of 94.5 for the two states with the maximum and minimum total VMT.
A quick perusal of the information in the above table reveals that higher levels of VMT per person tend to be associated (albeit not perfectly) with lower population densities (people per area), and vice versa. For example, the state with the highest VMT per person (Wyoming) is the state with the second lowest population density (just behind Alaska, which is unique in several relevant aspects, including the geography and the weather). The states that follow Wyoming with the highest levels of VMT per person are Alabama, Mississippi, New Mexico, and North Dakota. Their population-density rankings are 28, 33, 46, and 48, respectively.
On the other extreme, the District of Columbia has both the lowest VMT per person and the highest population density. The states that follow the District of Columbia with the lowest levels of VMT per person are New York, Alaska, Rhode Island, and Hawaii. Their population-density rankings are 8, 51, 3, and 14, respectively.
Only one of the 10 states with the highest total VMT (Georgia) is also among the 10 states with the highest VMT per person. The state with the highest total VMT (California) is the 41st in terms of VMT per person.
Out of the 10 states with the lowest total VMT, 4 are also among the 10 states with the lowest VMT per person (the District of Columbia, Alaska, Rhode Island, and Hawaii). The lowest amount of travel on both measures is in the District of Columbia.
Michael Sivak is the managing director of Sivak Applied Research and the former director of Sustainable Worldwide Transportation at the University of Michigan.