Is U.S. Driving at an All-Time High?

Eric Jaffe, in City Lab, counter’s Brad Plumer’s claim that “Americans are apparently driving more than ever … Indeed “vehicle miles traveled,” the primary metric for U.S. driving habits, has been on the rise—up 3.5 percent on the previous year, as of September.”

“But when you adjust VMT for the driving population, you get a very different picture. As it happens, Doug Short at Advisor Perspectives did just that last week. Turns out VMT per capita is on the way up in 2015 but remains a full 6 percent off the all-time peak hit in mid-2005. Instead of suggesting that Americans are driving more than ever, Short describes U.S. driving as being ‘about where we were as a nation in June of 1997.’”

“Where Plumer is onto something is his suggestion that cheap gas has led to this year’s VMT surge … Economics obviously play a role in driving habits—perhaps the largest one. Still, the fact that so many U.S. states hit their peak well before the recession is all the more reason to believe that there’s a new normal when it comes to our roads that isn’t entirely bound to financial fortunes, and to respond accordingly.”

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