How Does the Value of Driving Differ Across States?



Michael Sivak, a transportation scholar at the University of Michigan whose work has appeared on this blog before, released a new study on inter-state variations in economic activity per unit of driving.  His findings are interesting and reflect significant differences in GDP per distance driven among U.S. states:

In 2011, the highest GDP per distance driven was in the District of Columbia ($30.04/mile, followed by Alaska, New York, Connecticut, and Delaware. The lowest GDP per distance driven was in Mississippi ($2.51/mile), followed by Alabama, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. The median value was $4.66/mile. In comparison, the standard federal reimbursement rate for fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile in 2011 was $0.51/mile.

From 1997 to 2011, the largest absolute increase in GDP per distance driven (with GDP measured in current dollars) was in the District of Columbia (+$14.95/mile), followed by Alaska, New York, Delaware, and Oregon. The smallest increase was in Mississippi(+$0.67/mile), followed by Alabama, Michigan. Florida, and New Mexico.

The largest percentage increase from 1997 to 2011 in GDP per distance driven was in Wyoming (+115%), followed by the District of Columbia, North Dakota, Alaska, and Oregon. The smallest increase was in Michigan (+28%), followed by Florida, Ohio, Mississippi, and New Jersey. The increases in four states (Michigan, Florida, Ohio, and Mississippi) were smaller than the corresponding increases in inflation.

Craig Rojek

No causality claimed in the study! Nothing prescriptive here, no claim that increasing mileage driven, in general, will increase GDP. Consequently, interesting, but just as a basis for further inquiry.


Although the change over time information is interesting, this study only looks at total driving, and not necessarily driving that is economically productive. If I live in New York, I can take the subway to a friend's place. If I live in Alabama, I need to drive.

So it makes sense that the places with high population density have a high GDP per mile driven. But my guess is that the biggest producers are doing the least amount of driving.


This would be more interesting if there was a way to separate driving done for economic purposes from driving done for (or to get to) recreation. I'm probably an outlier: since I telecommute, almost all my driving makes no contribution to GDP beyond the purchase of fuel. And since I do most of my driving in a 70 mpg Honda Insight, even that contribution is minimal :-)


So if I understand this right you divided the states GDP by the number of miles driven. Seems to me that highly concentrated populations people will drive less and be more productive in general and this will result in a high GDP/mile ratio rather than saying that somehow their time sitting in a car is worth more. Could it be that they spend less time in their non-productive driving and more time producing?


Well then it's interesting the smallest/largest most/least dense are #1 and #2. Although AK does seem to be the clear odd man out of the top 5.

Steve Cebalt

Pardon my candor, but not only is this study pointless, it's also not interesting. Sorry!

Joe D

GD"P"? "P" is for "Please." That DC stat must be due to lobbyists, almost the least "productive" industries we have.


I was looking at some consolidation and analysis about this data presented here... What is to be inferred from these is the question...


Silly. I infer that the easier it is to get around without driving, the higher the GDP: e.g. DC, Chicago, and New York, compared to states like New Mexico and Mississippi. If there's a correlation (not discussed in the excerpt), it may be the converse of what this scholar implies - that more miles driven decreases GDP. Also, comparing DC to states is a bit meaningless.

Voice of Reason

Is anybody else wondering what Alaska is doing in that group? I wonder if it's because they have a lot of oil rig workers who live on-site?


It's probably because the high-value oil exports skew the numbers. Alaska has the third highest GDP per capita, simply because they have lots of oil and few people.