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Explaining the Evolution of Passenger Vehicle Miles Traveled in the United States

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Abstract: After growing steadily for several decades, passenger vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the United States unexpectedly leveled off in the 2000s. The growth rate of VMT has since rebounded, and determining the factors that explain these developments has implications for future US oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. We show that changes in the demographic and economic characteristics of households in the United States, rather than changes in driving habits, explain most of the recent dynamics. These results suggest that over the next decade, VMT in the United States will continue to grow roughly at historical rates, causing substantially higher oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions than if persistent changes in household driving habits explained the recent changes in VMT.

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