The U.S. Department of Transportation is reporting that driving is at a six-year high, but beware the hype. As James Brasuell at Planetizen notes, these numbers are not adjusted for population and thus don't account for the growing number of residents living in the country. As always, the better question to ask is how much the average American is driving, and the answer to that is the same as it's been for years: less and less.
Here's what vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) look like when adjusted for population growth, zoomed in to start in 2005 when VMT plateaued, and eventually began to fall:
Suddenly the surge in driving doesn't look so impressive.
The DOT is reporting these numbers in order to justify President Obama's new transportation bill, the GROW AMERICA Act, but their motivations are misguided. Although the bill is a positive step forward in the national transportation policy debate – emphasizing highway repair, transit investment, and increased local control of transportation funds – Americans should be skeptical of any suggestion that spending more money on accommodating cars will do anything to ease their commutes. We've been doing that for decades, and even though VMT has been stagnant and per-capita VMT has steadily and consistently declined, we've got virtually nothing to show for it.