VMT per capita

Desired Trend


Current Trend

Baseline (2017): 31.7
Current (2021): 31.3

Theme Connected


Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita per day

Why is it Important?

Transportation by personal vehicles has high personal and public costs, increases congestion, and pollutes the air and water. Nationally, average auto ownership for a medium-sized sedan costs an estimated $10,538 per year (varying based on mileage driven), which includes the cost of registration and taxes, depreciation, finance charges, maintenance, insurance, and gasoline.1 The transportation sector has substantial environmental impacts, accounting for 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.2 Transportation by motor vehicles reduces air quality by contributing to ground-level ozone, causes noise pollution, and reduces water quality from tire wear particles and oil leakage. Reducing the number of miles driven by personal vehicles limits these negative impacts. Increasing transportation choices can help reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) while also giving residents more options on how to access destinations, such as walking, cycling, or transit. This indicator measures the average number of miles driven per capita per day. The data includes all miles traveled on roads in the region, including travel by residents, visitors, and pass-through traffic.  

How are we Doing?

Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita in the St. Louis region is higher than the national average but it closely resembles the national trend, which follows the economy. Nationally, VMT declined during the Great Recession and had not returned to pre-recession levels before plummeting during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, VMT rebounded but is not quite back to the same level as it was prior to COVID. Consistent VMT data for the Missouri portion of the St. Louis region is only available back to 2017. Therefore, that year is used as the baseline for this OneSTL indicator. Longer trend data is provided for the United States, which the region tends to closely follow.

Daily VMT in the St. Louis region went from about 82.1 million miles in 2017 to 75 million in 2020, an 8.6 percent decrease. From 2020 to 2021, it went back up but only to 81 million miles, 2.9 percent lower than it was in 2019. Over this five-year period, the population of the St. Louis region remained about the same, therefore the changes to VMT per capita were about the same as they were for VMT overall.

Over the past two decades, national VMT per capita was at a high in 2004 to 2006 with a daily rate of 27.7 miles. It declined slightly over the next couple of years before dropping 3 percent during the Great Recession. It then continued to decrease at a faster rate than it was prior to the recession, reaching a low of 25.8 miles per capita in 2012. It then started a steady incline but still shy of the pre-recession levels when it reached 27.2 in 2018 and 2019. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate decreased 12.1 percent to 23.9 daily VMT per capita from 2019 to 2020. Over the following year, the rate increased 11.4 percent to 26.7 miles.  

Changes in VMT per capita can be due to a variety of factors, including the cost of gasoline, the proportion of people of peak driving age (35 to 54), interest in alternative modes of transportation, and fluctuations in the labor force participation rate.While these factors may account for some change in the VMT in St. Louis, for the most part the year-to-year changes for the region are small and mostly not statistically significant. VMT estimates and the Census population estimates both have some error that also impact this performance indicator.

Geographic Level

St. Louis eight-county bi-state region, including Franklin, Jefferson, St. Charles, and St. Louis counties and the city of St. Louis in Missouri and Madison, Monroe, and St. Clair counties in Illinois. View map.


1AAA, Your Driving Costs: How much are you really paying to drive?, 2021; accessed on 15 April 2022 at https://newsroom.aaa.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/2021-YDC-Brochure-Live.pdf

2U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 2020, accessed 15 April 2022 at https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions

3Dutzik, Tony and Phineas Baxandall, A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future, Spring 2013; accessed on 20 February 2014 at http://www.uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/A%20New%20Direction%20vUS.pdf 


Data Sources

Federal Highway Administration, Highway Performance Monitoring System; East-West Gateway Council of Governments