Life On The Road
Fuel prices up, traffic down
Record fuel prices have apparently convinced Americans to hit the brakes on driving. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said that Americans drove 1.4 billion fewer highway miles in April 2008 than in April 2007. April marked the sixth straight month that highway driving has dropped off. Numbers for the summer months weren’t available, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the high fuel costs, combined with summer driving patterns (kids out of school, etc.), continued the drive-less trend.
Peters said the situation highlights the need to find a more sustainable way to fund highway construction and maintenance since fewer fuel taxes are being collected. But on the positive side, she said, “We’re burning less fuel as energy costs change driving patterns and steer people toward more fuel-efficient vehicles and encourage more to use transit.”
Another plus: Greenhouse gas emissions fell by an estimated nine million metric tons for the first quarter of the year.
The agency has tracked highway vehicle miles traveled since 1942, and the energy crisis of the 1970s was the only other time that driving tapered off. But back then, say highway officials, the drop-off was more like a plateau; this time, the drop-off is more like a cliff.
“It is the steepest decline in vehicle miles traveled ever recorded,” says Jim Ray of the Federal Highway Administration. Rural interstate highways had the biggest change: a 5 percent drop in vehicle miles traveled.
More good news: Due to the weakening economy and rising fuel prices, some analysts predicted commercial motor vehicle fleets would be forced to focus less on safety in an effort to cut corners, but that’s not been the case. During Roadcheck 2008, inspectors across North America placed the fewest number of commercial trucks out of service since Roadcheck inspections began in 1988.
Vehicles underwent level 1 inspections, the most comprehensive roadside inspection, and only 23.9 percent of vehicles were put out of service. “This rate is the principal barometer used to measure compliance, and it is the lowest we’ve seen in the 21-year history of Roadcheck,” says Stephen F. Campbell, executive directory of CVSA, a nonprofit group promoting commercial motor vehicle safety. “It is clear the safety message is being heard and that the increased enforcement presence is making a difference.”
In June, more than 9,000 certified inspectors performed 67,931 truck and bus inspections. Some 5.3 percent of drivers were placed out of service, compared to 6.2 percent last year; 20.8 percent of vehicles were placed out of service versus 21.5 percent in 2007.
Despite the positive trends, the number of safety belt violations rose significantly from 829 last year to 1,226 this year. Safety belt enforcement is a primary focus each year. However, the main cause of out-of-service vehicles continues to be defective brakes, despite declines in recent years. In 2004, 56.6 percent of vehicles placed out of service had faulty brakes, compared to 52.6 percent this year.
Source: Roemer Report. Used with permission.