We’re driving less. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, vehicle miles driven have fallen since 2005, and are now at 1995 levels. Brian Imus of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group studied the situation, and has an explanation.
“I think that the attraction of past generations to the open road and having your own vehicle and the freedom that comes with that isn’t as strongly felt by the younger generation today, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that if you get on the ‘open road,’ you’re actually sitting in traffic congestion,” he said.
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In particular, according to Illinois PIRG research, miles driven by young people – ages 16-34 – dropped 23 percent from 2001 to 2009. Imus says this is because smart phones have made taking a bus less of a hassle, and the availability of texting and using social media while en route to a destination have made it an attractive option it a way it never was before.
Imus says technology is causing some people to travel less, in the knowledge-based workers are less likely to have to be in a fixed workplace than farm or factory workers.
The trend away from increased driving is the most sustained in history that is not explained by a recession. While the economy was in recession for part of this period, it does not explain the entire decline.
A comparable period was the 6 percent decline in miles driven from 1979-81 – a recession coupled with a spike in gasoline prices. It took until 1984 before driving returned to the 1979 level.