Press Release

Where are Vehicle Miles Traveled Heading?

Sep 8, 2016

WASHINGTON—The amount a person drives in the US—or doesn’t drive—matters. Passenger vehicles account for almost half of America’s oil consumption and about 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The United States has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about one quarter between 2005 and 2025.

After growing steadily for several decades, passenger vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the US unexpectedly leveled off in the 2000s. The growth rate, however, has since rebounded. Determining the factors that explain these developments has implications for future US oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, Resources for the Future (RFF) posted a new discussion paper: Explaining the Evolution of Passenger Vehicle Miles Traveled in the United States. The authors, RFF Senior Fellow Joshua Linn, RFF Fellow Benjamin Leard, and RFF Senior Research Associate Clayton Munnings, show that demographics (like age) and economic characteristics (like employment), rather than widespread changes in driving habits, explain most of the recent VMT dynamics.

The authors note that this pattern implies that, over the next decade, oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions will be substantially higher than if persistent changes in household driving habits explained the recent changes in VMT.

The authors, however, do find evidence of changes in driving habits for certain segments of the population, such as millennials. Although these segments account for a small share of total VMT, if their habits persist and spread, the effects on the future might be greater.

Read the full paper: Explaining the Evolution of Passenger Vehicle Miles Traveled in the United States.

Resources for the Future does not take institutional positions. Please attribute any findings to the authors or the research itself. For example, use "According to research from RFF …" rather than "According to RFF …".

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Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, DC, that conducts rigorous economic research and analysis to improve environmental and natural resource policy.