US vehicle miles traveled posted an outright loss of 0.1% year on year for February 2018. This was the first annual decline since early 2014, when oil prices averaged over $100 / barrel.
Of greater concern is the peaking out of per capita vehicle miles driven, which occurred in August 2017. Since then, VMT per capita has plateaued and in fact fallen every month since November last year.
Although oil prices have been rising, they were not particularly high at the last November -- under $50 / barrel, actually. Thus, the decline in per capita VMT is difficult to attribute solely to rising oil prices. Nor can it easily be attributed to the economy, which has performed very well in recent quarters. The more plausible explanation is a demographic shift, with seniors representing a larger share of the non-institutional, aged 16+ population which forms the demographic basis of our analysis. Old people drive less.
Put another way, US society is beginning to age out to all appearances.
This matters because GDP and VMT have long been highly correlated. If VMT per capita is peaking out, then achieving GDP growth rates much above 2% also looks problematic.
Form a political point of view, it suggests a society becoming increasingly conservative and brittle. We are beginning to look more like Japan.
From an infrastructure perspective, drivers are behind the wheel in the equivalent of 19 fewer days per year than they were in 2005. And that looks to deteriorate from here on out. Demands on transportation infrastructure may be peaking.
Not a comforting picture, really.