New Report Shows Washingtonians Are Driving Less

Washingtonians’ Driving Is Down 5.5% Percent, Trailing National Trend

WASHPIRG Foundation

SEATTLE – Washingtonians have cut their per-person driving miles by 5.5 percent since 2005, while the nation’s long term driving boom appears to have ended, according to a new report from the WashPIRG Foundation.

“Like drivers in almost every state, Washingtonians are driving less,” said Chris Esh, Program Associate for the WashPIRG Education Fund. “It’s time for policy makers to wake up and realize the driving boom is over. We need to reconsider expensive highway expansions and focus on alternatives such as public transit and biking—which people increasingly use to get around.”

The report, “Moving Off the Road: A State-by-State Analysis of the National Decline in Driving,” is based on the most current available government data. Among its findings:

• In Washington, driving per person peaked in 1999—making the state one of the earliest to see a peak in appetites for car travel.

• Since the 1999 driving peak, driving per person in Washington has fallen nearly 9 percent. This is the equivalent of drivers leaving their cars parked for more than a month per year.

• This decline in driving is a national trend. Forty-five other states have reduced per-person driving since the middle of the last decade.

• After World War II, the nation’s driving miles increased steadily almost every year, creating a “driving boom.” Spurred by the growth of the suburbs, low gas prices, and rising auto ownership, the boom lasted 60 years. Now, in stark contrast, the average number of miles driven by Americans is in its eight consecutive year of decline, led by reductions among the younger “Millennial” generation.

• Declines in driving can’t simply be attributed to the recession, since they started well before the economic downturn in 2008. And driving declines don’t correlate closely with unemployment or other indicators of a faltering economy. Other factors—from high gas prices to cultural shifts—are contributing to the shrinking appetite for car travel.

• Washington falls well behind the pace Oregon has set in decreasing driving miles. Since 2005, Oregon has seen an 11.1% drop in driving miles per person—more than doubling the rate at which Washington’s driving mileage rate fell over that period.

“With driving on the downturn, we need to press the reset button on our transportation policy,” said Esh. “For decades, our state’s transportation investments overwhelmingly went to highway construction. But recent trends show that highway expansions are the wrong choice for Washington’s future.”

“We must start to face economic reality and the changing priorities of Washington residents. Revenue constraints, crumbling infrastructure, climate change and changing demographics require a thorough reexamination of our current approach. A transportation system that works for all Washingtonians will focus limited dollars on transportation choices, livable communities and projects that are right-sized based on changing trends,” said Carrie Dolwick, Policy Director for the Transportation Choices Coalition.

“Washington drivers are driving less, so state policy makers need to adjust to the new transportation realities,” said Clark Williams-Derry, Director of Programs at the Sightline Institute. “That means trimming highway expansions, while re-investing in the new growth areas in transportation: transit, walking, biking, and new technologies that are changing the way we get around.”

Download the report, “Moving Off the Road: A State-by-State Analysis on the National Decline in Driving.”

Download the infographic that illustrates the end of the Driving Boom.            

# # #

WashPIRG Education Fund works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer meaningful opportunities for civic participation.