Summer Driving Season Off to Slower Start

As the national average price for a gallon of gas reached $3.94 this week, drivers across the country scaled back on their travel plans or stayed home for Memorial Day. Last year’s Memorial Day gas price was $3.23, which raised the hackles of drivers at the time. But this year’s price spike—coupled with stagnant wages—had a greater impact on driving trends.

According to the consulting firm Deloitte & Touche, 23 percent of Americans scaled back on, or abandoned completely, their travel plans for Memorial Day weekend. Exact numbers aren’t yet available for opening weekend of driving season, but March’s stats, released by the Federal Highway Administration on Monday, show the greatest year-to-year decrease in driving since 1979.

AAA estimates that 31.7 million people traveled this Memorial Day, down from 32 million last year. It may not sound like a huge drop, but when you factor in the number of people who chose to visit attractions closer to home, Americans are likely to do a lot less driving this year. Is that really a bad thing?

For all the awareness that Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” raised about the issue of global warming, Americans have failed to significantly pare down their driving habits out of concern for the environment alone. But in the long run, higher gas prices will lead to two things: less driving and more efficient vehicles. Truck drivers and cash-strapped families are unlikely to take much comfort from that now, but someday maybe their grandkids will be thankful.


  • Need2Change

    I have mixed feelings.

    It’s good that fossil fuel usage is down in the U.S.

    It’s bad that many did not visit relatives or vacation where they wanted.

    Also, I suspect that world-wide fossil fuel usage is still growing. The world population is increasing, China is adding one million new cars to the road each month, and India and Brazil are not far behind. Many third world countries are also adding cars and trucks.

    The world desparately needs a reasonably priced alternative to cars/trucks burning fossil fuel.

    The gasoline/electric hybrids are only an interim step.

  • tw8s

    While I may agree with the author’s opinions, I did not expect an opinion piece when I read the title of this post. I would like to know more about the basis for the Deloitte & Touche number, and also what is the historic trend of summer driving vs. spring and fall.
    Is it possible that vacation driving is comparable in miles or gallons used (the more important factor), in a similar time period of total family commuting? (Mom in the SUV to school, work, sports practice; Dad half-way around the beltway in his beater truck to his office; Junior and Sis EACH driving to school, mall, and friend’s homes)

  • Gerald Shields

    That reminds me: Both Peterbuilt and Kenworth (which are subsideraries of PacCar) are designing and manufacturing Diesel-Electric Hybrid semi trucks. I wonder if those that have been sold are saving any fuel at the pump? Does anyone associated with this have any info?

  • Jake

    Most of my relatives and my Auto Dude weren’t able to visit me because of the increase of gas prices. That is really sad since they visit me often, at least twice a year.