Sign up for our free newsletter

Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.


Driving in America is on the decline, and D.C. is leading the way.

After a 60-year “driving boom” in which the average American drove more miles each year, that trend has finally reversed in the past decade. One strain of conventional wisdom is that the decline in driving in recent years is due to the recession: People want to save on gas, or no longer have jobs to commute to, so they’re driving less. But a study released today by the consumer group U.S. PIRG finds that the move away from cars transcends the recession, and we may have passed peak driving.

Most states hit their maximum miles driven per person in the early or mid-2000s, well before the recession began, and have steadily declined since then. D.C.’s peak came in 2003; since then, per-capita driving in D.C. has fallen 21.7 percent, according to the study.

All but four states have seen a decline in per-capita driving since the mid-2000s. Ten states, plus D.C., have experienced a double-digit decline.

The study finds no correlation between weak economic performance and a decline in driving. Instead, it states, “Among the 23 states in which driving miles per person declined faster than the national average, only six saw unemployment increase faster than the nation as a whole.”

D.C. residents drive less than residents of any state—-not surprising, since we’re 100 percent urban. The average Washingtonian drives 5,774 miles annually. Alaskans, who drive the second least, log an average of 6,355 miles a year. Residents of Wyoming drive the most, 16,272 miles.

The District’s 14.4 percent decline in per-capita driving between 2005 and 2011 was the second-biggest in the country, behind Alaska’s 16.2 percent.

Given that the decrease in driving does not appear to be correlated with the economic slowdown or with other trends like telecommuting, the study concludes that it’s probably the new norm and should be treated as such. “Policy makers can stop wondering whether American driving trends are changing,” it states. “They should focus carefully on these trends, and start adapting policies to match them.”

Update 11:00 a.m.: The report is now posted online. You can read it here. http://uspirg.org/reports/usp/moving-road

Images from the U.S. PIRG report