And now for the other part of the story.
In 2014, in excess of 250 million motor vehicles’ odometers registered slightly more than 3 trillion miles of travel on American roadways. That works out to just about 12,000 miles per vehicle. Per capita, it comes out to a little less than an average 10,000 miles driven per annum.
I know of no other country whose peoples love their automobiles the way we Americans do. It is not uncommon for families here to own at least two cars and in many cases more. An interesting statistic is that our vehicles are parked for an average 23 hours per day which means vehicle use is for only an hour per day on average. Imagine, 250 million-plus vehicles getting just an hour’s use daily. The rest of the time these devices are parked. Also interesting to note is that only 40 million motor vehicles on American roads are in operation at any one time.
And, the vast majority of these vehicles – cars, buses and trucks – operate on 135.4 billion gallons of fuel yearly. That’s how much fuel it takes to keep America’s motor vehicles on the go over the course of an entire year.
The good news is that by 2025, the average motor vehicle fuel efficiency ratings will be double what they are today. That’s an average 54.5 miles per gallon compared to the average 27.25 mpg ratings today. That’s a noble goal, indeed.
In California, meanwhile, there is a goal of increasing the efficiency of motor vehicle fuels themselves to double by 2030 that which exists currently. If all of these goals are fulfilled, not only will motor vehicles and the fuels themselves be made more efficient, but so too will fuels and vehicles be cleaner-burning.
That all seems like a win-win until population growth is considered. By 2029, the Golden State’s population is projected to grow to 43.5 million people, up from 38-plus million today. Mirroring California’s population growth, the population of the U.S. as a whole is expected to reach 400 million by 2050. Which means that population in America is projected to reach 332.5 million people in just 15 years’ time.
With a rise in population and with the number of those driving expected to swell as well, the question is if this will be enough to offset by a commensurate amount the quantity of emissions from these sources entering our air. Even if the levels of emissions stay the same that’s still considered an improvement. Even better if there is a reduction and better still if that reduction is significant.
The presumption is that by 2025 and 2030, respectively, if the stated goals are realized, tailpipe emissions should be cut in half. But what to do until that time is the question.
More purchases of zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) and partial zero-emissions vehicles (PZEVs) would be nice as would less driving – per capita and overall, but based on current trends, it would be a bit of a stretch to expect per-capita and aggregate driving would be less as would be the growth in public transit use to be considerable.
So, the trick is to make what we are driving at present run at optimum performance levels. This can be done with oil and oil filter and air filter changes at regular intervals. Keeping tires inflated to their proper levels can help also. Avoiding quick starts from stopped conditions as well as minimizing hard braking is all a plus. And, biennial vehicle smog testing as a means of keeping tabs of how a vehicle’s engine is performing over time is beneficial. One and all of the above are valuable tools.
At the municipal level, highway ramp metering and high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) or high-occupancy/toll (HOT) lanes can also help, not to mention the synchronization of traffic signal lights. Steps that can be taken within a municipality to reduce or prevent traffic congestion and gridlock should be pursued. Managing the flow of traffic using technology-based approaches such as what is employed in Las Vegas, Nevada, it’s all good.
Transportation’s contribution to air pollution being considerable, without effective, positive strategies to counteract the damage to the air from the transport sector and absent drivers taking more proactive approaches, the likelihood that we’ll see gains above and beyond what has already been achieved, seems slim to none. Not one to sugar-coat things, much of the responsibility lies with us to make a positive difference on the road and elsewhere in this regard. We can if we want to. We should want to.