NHTS Answers How Americans Travel

NHTS Answers How Americans Travel

Some preliminary NHTS findings:

  • Travel by private vehicles accounts for 86% of all trips in 2001
  • People aged 35–44 travel the most
  • Americans are keeping their cars longer—the average vehicle on the street is nearly 9 years old

For the first time in five years, BTS has new data characterizing how Americans travel. The National Household Travel Survey (NHTS), a joint project of BTS and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), will be released in its entirety later this year. Early release of one portion of the study already tells the story of a nation generating more miles than ever.

According to the Passenger Travel data portion (excluding long distance) of the NHTS, per-household growth in the number of both vehicles and drivers is increasing, despite the fact that American households are getting smaller.

"These figures, when compared to previous surveys, will help us assess changes in American travel habits, such as how sprawl and congestion are affecting our daily commutes," said Joy Sharp, statistician in the Office of Survey Programs. The NHTS is the latest in a series of surveys that assesses and measures the details of the travel habits of Americans. The Department of Transportation conducted previous surveys on daily travel, in 1969, 1977, 1983, 1990, and most recently in 1995.

A major finding from this portion of the NHTS shows that the average American driver is spending more than 81 minutes a day behind the wheel. In 1995, the average time was 73 minutes. “More and more we are becoming a society on the go trying to get from here to there,” said Sharp.

The survey included more than 26,000 households nationwide and was conducted from April 2001 to June 2002. Participants in the survey provided details of their personal travel by completing travel diaries for an assigned travel day. Details included trip purposes, method of travel, time of day, and trip length. The households also provided demographic information, such as the age, sex, working status, and driver-status of the individuals and details of the cars available for their use.

The current survey data and technical reports are available at http://nhts.ornl.gov. Look for the BTS release of the overall survey later this year.