By Bengt Halvorson
Our battered economy might have changed how often Americans upgrade the vehicles in their garages, but it hasn't stopped us from getting in our cars and driving.
Oddly, with commuter driving likely significantly down because of higher unemployment, Americans drove about three trillion total miles in 2010 — the most since 2007, and the third-highest ever per year.
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood used the occasion to point to the poor condition of our highways; they themselves are economic eyesores, and several studies — including this one — point out that bad road conditions cost us each hundreds of dollars annually.
"More driving means more wear and tear on our nation's roads and bridges," said LaHood, with the release of the annual data. "This new data further demonstrates why we need to repair the roads and bridges that are the lifeblood of our economy."
Americans drove 0.7 percent more in 2010, versus 2009, which works out to a difference of 20.5 additional vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Rural Interstates saw the most significant gains in miles traveled in 2010 versus 2009 — about two percent higher. Overall urban miles traveled were down 0.2 percent — likely showing the decrease in commuter miles.
And looking at the end of the year, a bloc of eight states from Texas to Kentucky saw the most significant regional increase in miles traveled — with a 1.4-percent rise in travel year-over-year. The South Atlantic states were the only ones with regional driving down.