VMT moderates after recession-driven swings

By Eric Sundquist

U.S. vehicle-miles traveled (VMT), which had declined during the recession and then spiked, returned to a more normal level in 2018.

According to FHWA’s Travel Monitoring Trends data, total VMT grew by 0.4 percent in 2018. That rate was slower than population growth, resulting in a slight decline in VMT per capita.

Figure 1. Annual percentage change in U.S. highway travel. Source: FHWA (VMT) and Census Bureau (population).

VMT in the 20th century increased steadily as people drove more and as the population grew. In the 21st century, driving per person is flat—up just 1 percent in the last 20 years, compared with an increase of 45 percent in the last two decades of the last century. So, not counting economy-driven swings, VMT change in the United States overall seems to be tracking population growth.

Eric Sundquist is Director of SSTI.