In a new study using data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the U-M Transportation Research Institute examined the annual distance driven by locale and type of roadway in both urban and rural areas in the U.S. from 2000 to 2016.
They found that during that time, urban distance driven increased by 33 percent, while rural distance driven decreased by 12 percent. Overall distance driven (combining both urban and rural) rose by 15 percent—the same rate of increase for U.S. resident population since 2000.
"While the increase in overall distance can be fully accounted for by the increase in the U.S. population during the period examined, the divergent patterns of urban and rural driving are not fully accounted for by the corresponding changes in the amounts of urban and rural populations," Sivak said.
Sivak and Schoettle say that a 19-percent increase in urban population from 2000 to 2016 can account for only 58 percent of the increase in urban distance driven. Further, rural distance driven decreased despite the fact that the rural population has remained virtually unchanged since 2000.
The U-M researchers say that to better understand the factors that have contributed to these recent driving patterns, future research should look at the demographic factors of recent arrivals in urban areas; recent economic changes in urban and rural areas; who drives on urban and rural roads and for what purposes; and the impact of internet access and online activity on driving, especially in rural areas.