Motorists in the United States drove a total of 3.1 trillion miles in 2015, roaring past the previous record of 3 trillion miles set in 2007, according to federal estimates.
For those of you keeping an eye on the odometer, that’s the equivalent of about 757,000 trips along every inch of the nation’s 4.1 million miles of roadways.
The record total includes passenger vehicle, bus and truck travel, according to the Federal Highway Administration. More than 264 billion miles were driven in December 2015 as Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which provides $286 billion for roads, bridges and transit over the next five years.
The volume of traffic on the nation’s roadways affects more than just daily commuters. Trucks are considered the lifeblood of the U.S. freight system, moving most of the nation’s goods by tonnage and value, federal statistics show.
The previous record for miles driven in a year was set before the Great Recession slammed the brakes on the U.S. economy, with unemployment and less disposable income for vacations reducing annual mileage. Gas prices also spiked to more than $4 per gallon during that time, although they have recently dropped to 10-year lows.
There were nearly 256 million vehicles on the road as of 2013, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Fifty years ago, there were about 75 million vehicles on U.S. roads.
December 2015 traffic volume increased in all five major geographic areas of the nation compared to the last month of 2014: up 6.9% in the West; 3% in the South-Gulf, North-Central and North-East; and 4.4% in the South-Atlantic.
California’s 11.3% unadjusted mileage increase in December 2015 compared to December 2014 left the rest of the nation in its dust, outpacing second place Hawaii at 7.2% and Arkansas at 6.2%. States showing year-over-year mileage decreases were Connecticut, Iowa, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming, plus the District of Columbia.
Despite the mileage record, per capita vehicle miles traveled, a measure of how much people drive, began declining in 2006 and has not picked up even as the economy has recovered from the Great Recession, according to the Department of Transportation’s 2015 Beyond Traffic trends report.
But the 316-page analysis also notes that “traffic congestion remains high, particularly in large urban areas.” It estimates the average motorist in urban areas spends the equivalent of five vacation days each year delayed by traffic.
And the gridlock is likely to get much worse with commercial truck shipments projected to jump by 43% by 2045 as the population grows by 70 million people, the report estimates. Despite the FAST Act, the nation needs more investment in roads, bridges and other infrastructure, the Department of Transportation reports.