Archive for the ‘Gas prices’ Category

It’s (More Than Just) the Economy

There has been much written about the recent drops in traffic fatalities being a result of the bad economy, or the efforts of traffic safety campaigns (which, however laudatory, sometimes doesn’t explain the full picture; Massachusetts has the lowest seat-belt-wearing rate in the country and also, paradoxically, has the nation’s lowest per-mile fatality rate).

A new brief paper by Michael Sivak, “Mechanisms involved in the recent large reductions in US road fatalities,” published in the latest issue of Injury Prevention, makes the case, as shown in the above graph, that road fatalities have dropped more than miles driven, suggesting it’s more than a mere “exposure” issue. “The reduction in road fatalities,” he argues, “is the result of a change not only in the amount of driving, but also in the type of driving.”

What’s changed? While miles traveled have dropped across the board, rural miles driven — which are more dangerous than urban miles driven — have had a particularly steep drop (probably because rural incomes are lower and thus more affected by the economy/higher fuel prices). Sivak also suggests, though this is more logical supposition than empirical fact, that discretionary driving (e.g., the trips we don’t have to make) has been the first to go in the national mileage profile. Discretionary driving is riskier than things like commuting to work, Sivak notes, as it tends to be marked by “higher speeds, greater involvement of alcohol, and more night-time driving.”

In other words, while the recent drops in fatalities are to be welcomed, it does not necessarily follow that they would hold once the money (and fuel) started flowing again.

Posted on Monday, June 8th, 2009 at 9:14 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Century of Progress

The above chart, which shows the negligible gains in fuel economy cars have seen over the last century (what efficiency gains there were have been plowed into horsepower and more weight), is from “Fuel efficiency of vehicles on US roads: 1923–2006,” by Michael Sivak and Omer Tsimhoni, published in the most recent issue of Energy Policy.

The authors note:

After the 1973 oil embargo, vehicle manufacturers achieved major improvements in the on-road fuel economy of vehicles. However, the slope of the improvement has decreased substantially since 1991. Specifically, from 1973 to 1991, the efficiency of the total fleet of vehicles has improved by 42% (from 11.9 to 16.9 mpg). This represents a compound rate of improvement of 2.0% per year. On the other hand, from 1991 to 2006, the efficiency has improved by only 1.8% (from 16.9 to 17.2 mpg), representing a compound rate of improvement of 0.1% per year.

The curve will begin to look dramatically different by the end of the second Obama administration.

Posted on Friday, May 29th, 2009 at 2:22 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Gas Prices Drop, So Does Driving

Via Mobilizing the Region:

How times have changed. As of today, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline is $1.85. This may be just a temporary drop, but it’s nevertheless relatively cheap to drive again.

And yet Americans are continuing to cut back on driving. According to just released figures from the Federal Highway Administration’s Traffic Volume Trends report, Americans drove almost 13 billion fewer miles in November of 2008 than in November 2007, a decline of 5.3 percent. That is the second biggest drop in driving of any month this year, and it came even as gas prices were falling to the $2 per gallon range.

Through the first eleven months of 2008, driving has fallen an astonishing 102 billion miles, a drop of 3.5 percent over the same period in 2007. Assuming that trend holds true through the end of the year, it would represent the biggest decline in driving since World War II.

Posted on Friday, January 30th, 2009 at 4:45 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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How Soon Before It Goes Up Again?

Georgia town drops “fuel surcharge” for speeding tickets. Story here.

Posted on Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008 at 7:59 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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‘Canadians have a mild crush’

In Toronto recently, I was intrigued by the vehicle stream during the morning commute on the Gardiner expressway. As compared to the U.S., I felt as if I was seeing many more compact cars and minivans, and fewer SUVs and massive pickup trucks. What might explain this, I wondered — higher taxes, fuel prices… or something else?

An interesting answer is proposed in Tim Falconer’s Drive, an enjoyable and far-flung journey into our conflicted relationship with the car (we made a few shared stops along the way, like the office of Donald Shoup at UCLA).

A research company called Environics did a survey in 2004 comparing U.S. and Canadian attitudes on a number of things. One question asked people to agree with the statement: “A car says a lot about a person — it must reflect my personal style and image” or instead thought “A car is just an appliance, something to get me from point A to B.” Some 62% of Canadians went with the appliance bit, while only 40% of Americans did. “If Americans have a passionate love affair with the automobile,” the researcher wrote, “Canadians have a mild crush.”

I wasn’t wrong to sense a minivan abundance. Writes Falconer: “In fact, minivans are twice as popular north of the border because they are cheaper and better on gas than SUVs and are more understated, just like the people who own them.”

Falconer goes on to note other reasons that might explain a weaker Canadian ardor for the car (and I’m not sure the American situation is as much love as a kind of terminal co-dependence), such as the fact that despite the sheer size of the country, 39% of its population lives in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, where the need for constant car usage is less pronounced. Higher taxes and fuel costs, Falconer adds, do play their part as well (and recent gas spikes have probably left Canadians better situated to deal with higher pump prices).

Posted on Friday, September 5th, 2008 at 1:42 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Fueling Up, Fueling Down

The Economist notes:

“For years it seemed that American consumers’ demand for liquid fuel was price inelastic—whether it was to drive their cars or get their brains going in the morning. Yet $4 seems to have been the price at which demand becomes elastic, for both petrol and a frothy latte. As a result, baristas at Starbucks coffee shops around America are starting to get a taste of what it feels like to be a carworker in Detroit.”

I wonder what the actual relationship between gas prices and Starbucks’ performance is — are their sales down more in places where people drive more? Are things worse at Starbucks with drive-throughs than those without?

I find the magazine’s comparison interesting in light of the old saw that says coffee is the world’s second most-traded commodity — right behind oil. I know which form of sludge I’d rather cut back on (it’s not the one you drink).

Posted on Friday, July 11th, 2008 at 11:44 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Transport column to me at:

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage:

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency:

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau:

Order Traffic from:

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For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.

Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



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