five charts about Americans and their cars
Posted by Laura McLay on July 25, 2012
My post yesterday on why teenagers don’t have drivers licenses continues to generate discussion (thank you readers!). I’m going to continue the discussion here.
Despite the poor economy and expensive gas, Americans still love their cars. This love goes way, way back to the invention of cars (see my other blog post on super-highways). Here are some other interesting figures about Americans and their cars.
There are more cars than licenses drivers in the US. This is not a recent trend: there have been more cars than drivers since 1971. This gap is getting smaller, but it’s still wide, historically speaking. My husband pointed out that commercial and government vehicles may be included here. Another report shows that cars outnumbered drivers c. 2000.
This figure shows the miles of road (red). More recently, the total number of lane-miles (green) are shown, which takes multi-lane roads into account. This is a bit misleading, since adding a second lane does not double the road capacity. Compare the total number of road-miles to the total number of miles driven (blue). This suggests that there may be a road shortage. However, building more roads only encourages people to drive even more. Still, Americans love to drive more than ever.
The average annual number of miles driven per driver has steadily increased over time. Only recently people have been cutting back on their mileage, probably due to a poor economy and expensive gas. However, we have only cut back to our 1998 driving level.
Look at the purple line here. This is the average mpg relative to 1987 cars (the 1.0 level), and low is good. This shows that the average mpg has been more or less constant since 1980. This is largely because of the growing popularity of SUVs and minivans. We’ll have to see if the trend of tiny cars and Cash For Clunkers improves these values in the future.
Car, light truck (read: SUVs) and motorcycle fatalities per mile driven. This should convince you not to get around by motorcycle! You cannot see the car fatalities rates well. The fatality rate on rural rates is more than twice as large as the fatality rate on urban roads. This is probably due to urban congestion (congestion = slow driving = safer accidents) and the danger surrounding 2-lane rural highways (2-lane highways = head on collisions at high speeds). Both rural and urban fatality rates have come way down since 1980, probably due to air bags and other safety features (and despite of road rage). The urban fatality rate has dropped faster than the rural fatality rate. Again I would suspect urban congestion here. This is the upside to traffic. Takeaway: Driving is safer than ever.