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Great Britain and the United States show the same pattern of recent changes in vehicle distance traveled

by Michael Sivak, Sivak Applied Research.

Vehicle distance traveled per person in Great Britain is currently about one-half of the distance in the United States. The issue of interest in this study is whether, despite this difference, the two countries show similar patterns of recent changes on this measure.

The years examined were 1993 through 2018. Because British and U.S. statistics segment road vehicles differently, the data are for all road vehicles. (I documented recent changes in distance traveled per person for cars and light trucks in the United States in a study published last month.)

For Great Britain, the data sources were the U.K. Department for Transport (distances traveled) and the U.K. Office for National Statistics (populations). For the United States, the data sources were the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (distances traveled) and ProQuest (populations).

So, what do the calculations tell us? Throughout the examined time period, vehicle distance traveled per person in the United States was consistently greater than in Great Britain. For example, the respective distances in 1993 were 8,836 miles and 4,569 miles (distances that differ by a factor of 1.93), and in 2018 they were 9,904 miles and 5,083 miles (distances that differ by a factor of 1.95).

The fact that the distances in the two countries in 1993 and in 2018 differ by approximately the same factor, hints at the main finding of this analysis, which is evident in the chart below. This chart plots the distances traveled per person in each country, normalized to the distance in 1993 (by setting the distance in 1993 to 100 in each country). The main finding is that the two curves show the same general pattern of changes over time in vehicle distance traveled per person.


Specifically, the data in the chart indicate the following for both countries concerning vehicle distance traveled per person:

  • A large increase between 1993 and the mid 2000s. In Great Britain the peak distance (in 2007) was 15.4% above the 1993 value, while in the United States the peak distance (in 2004) was 14.6% above the 1993 value.

  • A substantial decrease between the mid 2000s and 2013. In Great Britain there was a 7.5% decrease from the peak in 2007 to 2013, while in the United States there was a 6.6% decrease from the peak in 2004 to 2013.

  • A modest increase (rebound) between 2013 and 2018. This rebound amounted to 4.2% in Great Britain and 4.7% in the United States.

  • The 2018 rate still down from its peak. The 2018 rate in Great Britain is down by 3.6% from its peak, while the rate in the United States is down by 2.2%.

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


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