Drops In Total US Miles Traveled Could Reflect Consumer Slowdown: Report

July 9, 2018


Austin American Statesman transportation columnist Ben Wear pointed out Friday that the estimate of total miles traveled in the US appears to be sputtering, and could be an early indicator of a slowdown in the economy and/or consumer spending (perhaps thanks to higher gasoline prices) — something worth watching as trade skirmishes develop.

See, “the Federal Highway Administration, using some statistical witches’ brew, each month puts out an estimate of the total miles traveled on U.S. streets, roads and highways.

Back during the Great Recession, that figure dipped for the first time since the agency began looking at those numbers decades before. In 2008, for instance, vehicle miles traveled dipped 1.85 percent from the year before, to about 2.97 trillion. The next year, it fell again by 0.6 percent, and after a slight uptick in 2010, it dropped again in 2011 by 0.6 percent,” Wear wrote.

That figure reached a new high in 2015, then was up again by 2.4% in 2016, and last year it increased again but by only 1.3%.

“And looking at the month-by-month figures for 2017 and through April of this year, there’s at least some evidence that this rough measure of economic activity forecasts ominous news.”

Month over month in 2017, the growth percentage fell below 1% when compared with 2016.

This year it was an 0.4% January mileage growth, a 0.1% drop in February, a 0.5% rise in March, then a 0.2% drop in April.

“But vehicle miles traveled is a number worth watching as the Trump administration stages the first skirmishes in a trade war with China, Canada, Mexico and much of Europe.”