NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Higher Gas Prices Discourage Driving

April 2, 2001

American motorists drove fewer miles in 2000 than they did the previous year, according to preliminary statistics from the Department of Transportation. That was the first decline in 20 years and it occurred despite an increase in the number of vehicles on the nation's roads.

  • Americans logged 2.688 trillion miles last year -- down from 2.691 trillion in 1999.
  • Previous year-to-year declines -- noted in 1974, 1979, 1980 and 1981 -- were associated with economic recessions, but experts attributed last year's decline to higher fuel prices.
  • Last year's decline began in the second half and got steeper as the year progressed, with mileage in December down 5.5 percent.
  • From 1981 to 1999, the number of miles traveled each year was up 73.6 percent.

The number of registered vehicles rose by 4.61 million in 2000 -- about twice as fast as the population -- to 217.3 million.

While the department's numbers do not differentiate between commercial and noncommercial traffic, experts think the number of miles traveled by trucks was roughly the same in 2000 as in 1999. Even though diesel fuel prices rose sharply last year, that didn't affect truck mileage -- which is determined mostly by the economy rather than fuel costs.

Source: Matthew L. Wald, "Despite More Cars, Miles Fall for the First Time in 20 years," New York Times, April 2, 2001.


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