Retail Gasoline Prices and Annual Vehicle Mileage, United States, 1960-2020

Retail Gasoline Prices and Annual Vehicle Mileage United States 1960 2020

Source: FHWA for miles traveled. EIA for gasoline prices (2005 dollars). Leaded gasoline prices before 1980, unleaded gasoline afterward.

There is a concordant relationship between the average annual mileage traveled per vehicle and gasoline prices. Sixty years of empirical evidence in the United States underlines that higher gasoline prices are linked with lower levels of annual miles traveled per vehicle. However, this relationship can be broken down into four clusters corresponding to specific periods:

  • 1960-1978 (Motorization). This era marks the ongoing motorization of American society, the fast growth of suburbia, and low gasoline prices.
  • 1979-1985 (Recessionary transition). The First and the Second Oil Shocks and the recession of the early 1980s are characterized by a setback in the average annual mileage in light of rising gasoline prices.
  • 1986-2000 (Peak motorization). Through the 1990s, gasoline prices remained low, enabling the motorization trend observed through the 1960s to resume. America reached peak motorization and peak suburbanization.
  • 2001-2019 (Peak motorization transition). Through the 2000s, gasoline prices increased substantially, marking a new transition where the average annual mileage was in decline.

2020 represents a notable outlier as in the initial stages of the pandemic, driving declined, including gasoline prices.