Study: Americans Less and Less Attached to Their Cars

A new study says Americans are driving less and increasingly giving up their cars.

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The car has long been a symbol of American independence, signifying our ability to drop everything and take to the interstate.

As it turns out, more and more Americans are now choosing freedom from their cars. According to a new study, Americans are weaning themselves off of automobiles on a number of levels.

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The study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute shows that the number of miles driven per household, per driver, per vehicle and per person all have fallen off in recent years after peaking in the mid-2000s.

(Source: University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute)

Source: Michael Sivak, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute

Though the decline in driving coincides in part with the Great Recession and subsequent recovery, the economic downturn was not responsible for the downward trend, according to Michael Sivak, a research professor with the institute. Rather, increased reliance on public transit and a boom in working from home have helped to cut Americans off from their cars.

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"Importantly, the maxima in these rates were reached between 2001 and 2006 – several years prior to the onset of the economic downturn in 2008," Sivak writes in the study. "Therefore, it is likely that the declines in these rates prior to 2008 reflect other societal changes that influence the need for vehicles (e.g., increased telecommuting, increased use of public transportation, increased urbanization of the population, and changes in the age distribution of drivers)."

In addition, the share of households without a car has grown. As of 2007, only 8.7 percent of households were without a car. In 2011, that figure peaked at nearly 9.3 percent, falling off slightly to 9.2 percent in 2012. That may seem like a slight jump, but given the nearly 116 million U.S. households, a half a percentage point is the equivalent of nearly 580,000 households.

(Michael Sivak, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute)

Source: Michael Sivak, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute

Thanks to a host of recent studies, the decline in driving is an increasingly well-documented phenomenon. A December study from the Texas Public Interest Research Group found that young adults had cut back on driving by 23 percent from 2001 to 2009. And an August study from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund likewise found that between 2005 and 2011, vehicle miles traveled per person fell in 43 states and the District of Columbia.

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