Our Opinion: Stop making sense, already

Monday, February 27, 2006

Here's a news flash, reported this week: in 2005, for the first time in 20 years, Iowans drove less miles than the year before. Iowans drove about 31.7 billion miles last year, yes, that's billion with a "b," down an estimated 222 million miles from 2004.

2005's total mileage decline bucked a trend of rising mileage, with some years racking up substantial increases. The reason for the decline? Three guesses and the first two don't count.

Yep, high fuel prices are the culprit. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), the price of regular gasoline in Iowa averaged $2.18 a gallon last year, up from $1.77 a gallon in 2004.

Let's see, gas prices rise 19 percent and how do Iowans respond? According to economists at Iowa State University, they drove less and combined trips when travel was absolutely necessary.

Apparently, common sense is so rare that when it occurs, it's considered news. But wait, there's more.

The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) tracks travel trends using information collected from automated traffic counters at 127 locations. The DOT said miles driven dropped last year on city streets and rural county roads. Mileage was unchanged on the state's rural interstate highways, and it was up on urban interstate highways.

Economists say this is because our state's population is shifting away from rural areas to urban areas.


All seriousness aside, this drop in driving is news. Since the 1930s, Iowa has recorded a drop in miles driven just nine times -- during World War II when gasoline was rationed, the oil embargoes of the 1970s and the farm crisis of the 1980s. None of these times were pleasant, and just to put a cherry on top of the report, DNR energy analysts left us with one final thought: drivers may have to pay $3 a gallon for gasoline this summer, with some predictions running as high as $3.40 a gallon.

Do you suppose we'll drive less?