If you’ve canceled the vacation trip, combined errands and cut out those Sunday drives you’re not alone. Americans, in general, are driving less than they have since 2003, according to new government data.
Even though fuel prices have slipped in recent months, analysts are betting that this year’s near-record run-up has led motorists to rethink the amount of time they spend behind the wheel. In many cases, it appears that motorists may simply be driving smarter, carpooling, for example, or linking up errands to avoid repeat trips.
Whatever the reason, the Department of Transportation found that road travel – already on a decline – dipped another 1.7% in August, with U.S. motorists clocking a “mere” 4.6 billion miles. That’s lower than at any time since the depths of the recession, in August 2009.
For the year-to-date, travel is down 1.3%, year-over-year, motorists logging 26 billion vehicle miles – less than at any time since 2003, reports the DoT.
With the economy very slowly recovering, urban interstate travel declined by only 0.5% last month, while rural roads saw a significant 2.7% dip.
The decline varied by region, as well. Out West, travel was down just 1.2%, while the Northeast saw a 2.2% dip.
The Transportation Department will be watching to see if the trend reverses itself, however. Fuel prices that peaked around $4 a gallon last spring had declined to just $3.68 by the beginning of August and continued falling in much of the country into autumn. In recent weeks, some parts of the country have seen numbers dip to near $3.00, though petroleum trading has been bouncing back up as fears of a double-dip recession recede.
The decline in traffic, in recent years, has been accompanied by a dip in highway deaths, as well, which fell 0.2% to 33,808 last year, the lowest level since 1950, before the launch of the Interstate Highway Program.