TRENTON – Americans are spending somewhat less time behind the wheel, a new study by N.J. Public Interest Research Group shows.
“After a 60-year ‘Driving Boom’ of traveling more behind the wheel almost every year, Americans have reduced their average driving miles each of the last eight years,” the study released Thursday said.
The downward trend in driving is somewhat unsurprising, given a combination of factors such as the recession, gasoline prices, and changes in technology and in demographics, NJPIRG stated.
But for a key demographic group, the numbers are telling. According to the study, average driving miles for Americans aged 16 to 34 fell by 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.
This trend is matched by a long-time slide in the rates that youth obtain drivers’ licenses. More than 87 percent of 19 year olds held drivers licenses in 1983, but only 69 percent did in 2011.
Other data show that per capita vehicle miles traveled peaked in 2004 and had fallen 7.4 percent by the end of 2012, NJPIRG said.
With the most recent statistics released for May 2013, cumulative miles driven for
the previous 12 months was down a half billion miles compared to the same period a year earlier, the study showed.
“The average number of miles driven per person now matches the level back in 1995, when Bill Clinton was in his first term at the White House, the Dow Jones surpassed 4,000 for the first time and the hit TV show ‘Matlock’ was in its final season,” the study showed.
The study pointed out that some skeptics suspect this downward trend may reverse itself as, for example, the economy improves, and because of that, it becomes easier to postpone necessary transportation system reforms.
In the nine-state Northeast region, New Jersey ranked fifth, at 8,286, in terms of average vehicle miles driven per capita in 2011.
Income is a factor, the study showed. States with higher median household incomes average fewer annual driving miles.