In 2012, U.S. miles driven are likely to suffer a large decline, according to a report from Aftermarket Insight by Jim Lang, President of Lang Marketing Resources, Inc.
"While it’s very early in 2012 and official mileage figures are not available for January, strong forces are in place that threaten to extend the U.S. miles downturn through a second year," Lang says.
Not since 1979 and 1980, when gas prices increased by more than 50 percent and pump shortages caused gas rationing across the country, has annual mileage declined in two consecutive years, according to Lang. In 2011, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reported 2,962.9 billion vehicle miles of travel a 1.2 percent decrease (35.7 billion vehicle miles) compared to 2010.
Even a modest reduction in driving on U.S. roads in 2012 will reduce 2012 annual miles close to 2004 driving levels, Lang predicts. According to the FHWA, U.S. drivers traveled around 2,923.9 billion vehicle miles in 2004.
With 2012 mileage falling close to 2004 total driving, despite 16 million more light vehicles in operation this year versus eight years ago, 2012 annual driving by the typical car and light truck could average as much as 900 miles per vehicle below 2004, according to Aftermarket Insight.
Two major factors determining U.S. driving levels (in addition to pump prices) are unemployment and consumer confidence.
If 2012 gas prices are anywhere close to those projected by some analysts ($4.50 and up), the U.S. economy will likely be pushed back into recession, forcing unemployment above 9 percent and delivering a body-blow to consumer confidence, Aftermarket Insight reports.
The situation is similar to the second half of 2008, when driving in the U.S. continued to drop despite gas prices dropping by more than half because of sinking consumer confidence and rising unemployment. If these two negative factors are combined with higher gas prices again in 2012, Lang says, the impact on driving could be severe.