The Fuels Institute has released its latest report, “Driver Demographics: The American Population’s Effect on Vehicle Travel and Fuel Demand.” The report analyzes historical demographic data as it relates to driving behavior and vehicle-miles traveled (VMT).
“Our newly released ‘Driver Demographics’ report is an impressive assessment of trends leading up to today and indicating potential developments in the transportation market,” said John Eichberger, executive director of the Fuels Institute, which was founded by NACS in 2013. “To understand what is happening in the market today and what could happen tomorrow, it is essential that we better understand how we got here. There is no other publication that looks at the historical demographics trends that affect the transportation sector in such a comprehensive manner as does this report.”
Through an analysis of American drivers and their behaviors, including vehicle-miles traveled, the report summarizes that transportation demand has stabilized after a century of continuous growth, suggesting that the U.S. driving pool has reached a level of saturation. Historically, the amount of drivers grew rapidly until 1980, but has since plateaued at around two-thirds of the general population.
“Driver Demographics” demonstrates that the most influential factor in U.S. vehicle miles traveled growth throughout the 20th century was females entering the “driving society.” Since the 1990s, however, this growth factor has plateaued—every female who wants a driver’s license now has one.
In addition to evaluating this development, “Driver Demographics” looks closely at other factors that can influence VMT, include age and income. The report finds that the growth in driving by baby boomers may offset a decline in driving by Millennials, but that all age groups stand near natural saturation limits of driver licensing and driving distance.
“A number of reports have indicated that the Millennial generation does not have the same love affair with the automobile as preceding generations,” said Eichberger. “This report seems to confirm that, but the finding that older generations are increasing their driver rates and distances traveled is something most analyses have not considered. This has important implications for businesses that are affected by the personal transportation market.
The report also reveals that the widening income inequality in the U.S. is leading to travel-demand saturation among the affluent, while limiting the travel demand among middle-income or low-income drivers.
The study’s findings indicate that total transportation demand has been stable for 10 years, and will likely be stable for the foreseeable future. This trend stands in contrast to the 100 years before, when it grew continuously. With most growth factors having reached near saturation points, population growth alone remains the primary influencing factor for future VMT growth.