Thursday, September 25, 2014

U.S. Driving Distance Steady as Habits Change

The U.S. Department of Transportation keeps track of how much driving people do, and the national totals have stayed roughly the same for a decade after a near-steady upward trend of half a century. The driving distance for July was up 1.5 percent over July 2013, though the upward movement is only 0.6 percent if you compare the year to date to the year before. In either case, it is not that people individually are driving more. The increase in driving distance is less than the rate of employment growth or the rate of population growth, so what we’re seeing is the slow change in driving habits as people find more ways to drive less.

Time pressure is one factor affecting driving distance and everything that consumers do. People skip shopping trips, restaurant meals, and sales visits and work fewer days in the office just to save time. Congested roads discourage driving in some hours of the day, and stop-and-go traffic reduces distance for everyone involved. Highway congestion is an especially noticeable trend as employment increases above its pre-recession peak in the Northeast.