Americans Aren't Likely to Start Driving at Pre-Pandemic Levels Soon

Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and gasoline production trends point to VMT in the United States staying ten to 12 percent lower than in 2019 for the next few months, at least.

September 28, 2020, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Highway Sign in North Carolina

Sharkshock / Shutterstock

Jeff Davis reports: "The July issue of Traffic Volume Trends from the Federal Highway Administration says that total vehicle miles-traveled (VMT) on U.S. roadways in July 2020 was down 11.2 percent from the July 2019 level (262.4 billion VMT versus 295.6 billion VMT)."

To summarize this news in context of the VMT trends since the onset of the stay-at-home orders and social distancing of the pandemic, the recovery of driving in the United States is slowing, and it's likely to stay below the pace set by drivers in 2019 for the foreseeable future. 

For reason to believe that VMT won’t continue to climb back to pre-pandemic levels until something changes with the novel coronavirus, Davis points at gasoline production, which has tracked throughout the pandemic as a two-week predictor of VMT, and is released more frequently and closer to real time than VMT figures.

Gas production plummeted in the second half of March, bottoming out at 42.5 percent below 2019 levels the week ending April 3. It crept back up steadily, hitting the -30 percent mark the week ending May 15, and the -20 percent mark the week ending June 5. Since then, however, gasoline production has stabilized in a narrow band that averages 10.6 percent below 2019 production levels, since the week ending June 19:

If gasoline production as a preceding indicator of VMT holds up, then aggregate VMT may also stabilize in the 10-12 percent below 2019 level for several more months.

The article also includes a regional breakdown of the VMT trends.

Thursday, September 24, 2020 in Eno Center for Transportation

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