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2 Jun 27 2013 @ 11:00pm by Matt Smith in Crude Oil, Economy

All Downhill From Here

There have been a number of recent research reports addressing the notion of ‘Peak Car’ – whether driving has peaked per person in the US. So here are a bunch of interesting tidbits and nuggets I have gleaned from the reports ‘A New Direction‘ and ‘Has Motorization in the US Peaked?’, as well as an update on miles driven….it’s all downhill from here.

Pedal to the Metal

–From the end of World War II to 2004 (known as ‘the Driving Boom’), Americans drove more miles nearly every year
–The driving boom coincided with the Baby Boom –  a bubble of those born between 1946 and 1964
–By 2004, the average American was driving 85% more miles than in 1970
–Between 1980 and 2010, freeway capacity (measured in lane-miles) expanded by 35%

Hitting The Brakes

–The peak driving age group is that of 35-54 year-olds
–The total number of 35-54 year-olds is set to tail off by the end of this decade
–Meanwhile, the share of the population of those 65 and older is set to increase dramatically by 2040

–In 1980, the age group of 65 and older made up 11% of the population. By 2040 this share is expected to reach 21%
–By 1992, 90% of the driving age population could drive, but by 2011 this had fallen to 86% – the lowest level in 30 years
–In 2011, 67% of 16-34 year-olds had a license, the lowest level since at last 1963
–Inflation-adjusted gasoline prices have doubled in the last decade
–Young people aged 16 -34 drove 23% fewer miles in 2009 than in 2001
–From 2001 – 2009,  the number of passenger miles traveled by those aged 16-34 on public transport increased 40%
–Americans took nearly 10% more trips via public transportation in 2011 than in 2005

Driving It Home

–The absolute number of cars peaked in 2008, at 236.4 million
–This translates to nearly 2 vehicles per household, over 1 car per licensed driver, and 0.75 vehicles per person 

–Although ‘The Great Recession‘ is likely to blame for the drop-off in vehicles since 2008, a growing population (increasing 11% from 2011 to 2025) means we will likely see a higher number of vehicles on the road in the future


–Although we may not have peaked in terms of total vehicles in the US, we have likely peaked in terms of ‘Peak Car’ – aka miles driven per person
–Whether this slow-down is due to telecommuting, changing demographics, higher fuel costs, online shopping, or increased use of public transport, the evidence points to a turning tide in terms of miles driven:

Thanks for playing, and keep on trucking…or don’t, as the case may be…

2 Comments on this post:

  1. Ruth says:

    It would be interesting to have net population statistics included in your data. Has the USA gone through demographic transition yet – where the population stabilises? This would alter the simple correlation of recession with mileage.

    Good information, thanks

  2. TOM MURPHY says:

    Why haven’t these numbers been challenged? Perhaps someone wiser is waiting to see how the newer numbers look.

    First, the proponents’ claim is a declining VMT. I look at it and see a plateau after a drop normal to recession. They cite an increasing VMT in America for the last fifty years. When you look at the fuller picture you readily see VMT, with the exception of WWII has been rising like a rocket since they first recorded a number. The pre-war total VMT totally recovered within weeks of the end of the war.

    They say the recession is over so VMT should have recovered by now. The recession may be over but the employment numbers don’t reflect any end, Employment means commuting; commuting in the USA means VMT. Of course, the proponents premise a declining VMT on the American economy, and jobs, never recovering.

    Again, in our present economy there are some 11 million illegals barred from drivers licenses. That’s maybe 3% of the work force(more?). Has anyone disaggregated the driving work force?

    Third,, the youth, their parents and their grandparents are saddled with substantial debt from education, as well as declining income and wealth. Just look at Mr. Short’s report on the generational impact of paying off that debt. Those in their early twenties are the most stressed, but the cohort around age fifty is also burdened. This would be the parents of the grads, also contributing to those payments. However, the report includes another stressed age group at about eighty years of age( I missed those students when I was at college). Perhaps this is only the stressed-out parents going to THEIR parents for an advance of the wealth distribution so they can all ‘dig-out’ and get on with life. Mind you, all along these people are not in a position to buy another car unless it it needed to protect the their income.

    I could go on but someone will just say I’m extremely not qualified to know. So I’ll say what is obvious to all: Putting an automobile on the street today, properly registered and insured, is an extremely expensive and long-term proposition. That’s before you fill the tank. But as long as long-commutes must be made to earn an income and long-trips everywhere and anywhere are desired then VMT will be strong and positive.

    Of course, if anyone wants to look into auto-ownership saturation, I’ll bring the beer and pretzels.

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