Researcher says Americans racking up fewer miles

Des Toups


Managing Editor

OdometerA University of Michigan researcher reports U.S. motorists are driving less than they have in years and suggests that our time behind the wheel may have peaked.

A newly released analysis from Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute looked at mileage racked up by cars, SUVs, vans and light-duty trucks from 1984 to 2011.

Overall miles driven have dropped about 5 percent since their 2006 peak, Sivak said, from 2.773 trillion miles to 2.647 trillion in 2011. Even reduced, that number is far above the 1.559 trillion miles traveled in 1984.

Sivak broke the total down further, underlining the scope of the decline.

  • Miles per person: 8,494 (2011) vs. 9,314 (2004) vs. 6,612 (1984)
  • Miles per licensed driver: 12,492 (2011) vs. 13,711 (2004) vs. 10,032 (1984)
  • Miles per vehicle: 11,318 (2011) vs. 11,946 (2004) vs. 9,947 (1984)
  • Miles per household: 22,069 (2011) vs. 24,349 (2004) vs. 18,256 (1984)

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"These reductions likely reflect, in part, noneconomic changes in society that influence the need for vehicles,” Sivak says, citing increases in telecommuting and public transportation use, changes in the age of the driving population and increased urbanization.

Sivak says households today own fewer vehicles than in the past, which could halt the decline in miles per vehicle if the trend continues.

The number of miles a car is driven directly affects car insurance rates. The more miles, the higher the risk. If you are driving less, you should at least ask your insurance company about a low-mileage discount.

A 40-year-old man driving a 2013 Subaru BRZ Premium in Oakland, Calif., would find big changes in what he pays for full coverage at various mileage levels.

  • 7,000 miles: $2,060
  • 12,000 miles: $2,161
  • 15,000 miles: $2,275
  • 25,000 miles: $2,589

You might be able to snag a small discount off standard rates below 10,000 miles, and if you drive less than 7,000, you should expect a fairly substantial break. Discounts are typically 5 to 15 percent off collision and liability coverages.

Expect to be asked for verification of your mileage: You may have to fill out a form, take a photo of your odometer, or let the insurance company may check service and emissions records.

If you drive very little, pay-as-you-drive insurance might save you even more, using a device that plugs into your car and reports odometer readings and driving habits. Discounts in some cases can top 40 percent.

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