Driving Is A Dying Activity In America

OK, that headline is a little extreme, but this is a story that needs to be talked about more: Americans are driving less and less.

Check out this chart from Doug Short showing vehicle miles driven on a population adjusted basis.

Vehicle miles

Photo: Doug Short

We’re back to 1999 levels.

And that’s adjusting for the entire population. If you adjust for only the population that’s over 16 (driving age), the story is even more dramatic.

vehicle miles

Photo: Doug Short

And then even not adjusting for anything, just looking at raw miles, the trend is obviously down since 2007.


And that trend continues this year. In the last week, gasoline sales were off 6% (!) from the year before.


Photo: EIA

There are a few different theories. Maybe Americans have adjusted to a new era of gas prices.

Demographics also probably play a role.

Note that there’s been a pretty big decline in labour force participation since the mid-2000s, a trend that’s in large part attributable to people getting older.


Photo: FRED

Going back a bit further, you can see that things peaked around 1999, and then moderated a little, before collapsing in the last couple of years.


Photo: FRED

On the demographic front, it’s a fact that gasoline demand just drops off precipitously among the 50+ cohort. This chart from Harry Dent (via Doug Short) shows annual gasoline purchases by age.

gas age

Photo: Harry Dent

And as Barclays recently pointed out, the 50+ age group has boomed as a percentage of the population.


Photo: Barclays

It also seems conceivable that the internet, and online shopping have cut down on some driving (perhaps?).

Either way, it’s clearly a big economic story, and one we’ll be discussing further, especially as gas prices remain so elevated.

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