Study: Driving habits tied not to pump prices but to percentage change

April 11, 2018

Logic suggests that the more gasoline costs, the less people will drive their vehicles. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy says that's true—but it's not as simple as the actual price paid at the pump.

According to a study conducted by the federal agency, when gas prices spike, drivers do not dramatically reduce the amount they travel. The study indicates that drivers instead adjust the amount they drive based on the percentage of increase or decrease in the cost of fuel.

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Other factors also factor into the number of miles driven, according to the report. While gas prices are top-of-mind because of how often they are put directly in front of drivers, factors such as demographics, economic growth, transportation mode shifts, driver licensing rates, vehicle population and infrastructure capacity also impact the overall amount that vehicles are driven.

All things considered, it makes more sense for drivers to drive as few miles as possible even when gas prices are low. More miles driven translates to more money spent on things such as oil changes, new tires, other maintenance and unexpected repairs and vehicle depreciation. The lower the miles driven, the more money can be saved on these costs.

The Federal Highway Administration encourages drivers to consider the amount that they drive even when gas prices are low. More driving can lead to other issues such as gridlock, increased pollution and infrastructure deterioration.

NPR reports that some transportation advocates are coming together to push for a change in the way that fuel taxes are charged so that infrastructure can be maintained more effectively.

Instead of gas taxes at the pump, some advocates believe that a tax based on miles driven makes more sense. This is because taxes at the pump are used in the maintenance of infrastructure.

When gas prices are low and drivers drive more, less taxes are collected and infrastructure maintenance suffers. Taxes collected per mile driven could ultimately help federal and state officials keep up with the cost of infrastructure repairs and construction better because the amount of upkeep required to infrastructure would be more balanced with the amount that roads, highways, bridges and other infrastructure are used.

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