Missouri per-capita gasoline consumption highest in the nation? Not quite--but it's high

A few weeks ago we reported on a newly released county-by-county map of the U.S. that seemed to show Missouri per-capita gasoline use as the highest in the nation. 

The way Missouri stands out from adjoining states in that map just didn't strike us as right.  So we dug a little deeper, and here are the results:

It turns out the Missouri is among the highest states for per-capita gasoline usage--but not quite at the very top.

Missouri ranks seventh highest in per-capita miles driven, with 11833 miles per resident per year. That put us at about 2000 miles per person per year above the national average of 9608.

Highest and lowest states

Highest per capita was Wyoming--not surprising as a large, rural state with very small population--followed by Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and North Dakota.

The lowest per capita driving states are dominated by those with large urban populations: DC--a small, densely populated completely urban area--was lowest, followed by Alaska, New York, Hawaii, Nevada, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

The surprises there are Alaska and Nevada.  Alaska, like Wyoming, is a very large, rural state with small population.  Both states have 65-70% urban population (the U.S. average is 79% urban), so it is surprising to see them at the opposite ends of the map.

Nevada is not as surprising as it might appear at first glance.  It is a large state with a very large, unpopulated rural area.  But by population, Nevada is one of the most urbanized states--88% of the population is packed into the Las Vegas and Reno urban areas.

Why is Missouri among the highest states for per capita miles driven?

Some of the difference among states can be explained by the percentage of urban and rural population.  Urban areas are naturally denser, residents are closer to populations and services, and more transportation options are available--work, school, shopping, and recreation are more likely to be within reach of transit, biking, or walking.

But even within its peer states, Missouri is a bit of a standout.  These states all have urban population between 65% and 70% of the total:

  • Oklahoma
  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Wisconsin
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Indiana
  • Minnesota
  • Kansas
Of those states, all are above 10,000 miles per capita annual VMT, but only Oklahoma actually tops than Missouri.
 
What are the other factors?  Well, many of them are the ones that we keep harping on year after year here at MoBikeFed: Missouri has fewer transportation options.  Many parts of the state have few or no good, safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities available near residents and connecting important destinations. Transit connectivity is weak and systems are chronically underfunded. Our planning for growth is poor and the result is many dispersed suburban developments dependent by design on single-occupant automobile travel. Low fuel taxes--Missouri has the sixth lowest gas tax in the nation--encourage more driving.
 
When we improve those factors we'll have a state friendlier for bicycling and walking and the number of miles driven--and greenhouse gases and pollution produced--will naturally go down while the population's health improves. 
 
Missouri is making progress now in these areas.  If this progress continues it wouldn't be surprising to see us drop of the the top 10 states for per capita miles driven over the next 5 or 10 years.

 

Methodology

This map uses a similar methodology to the NRDC's county-by-county map: We started with the Federal Highway Administration data on the annual miles driven in each state then used U.S. Census data for each state from the same year to figure a per-capita miles driven.  The map above shows the results.  States with lower per-capita miles driven are light green while those with more pre-capita miles driver are darker green.

We looked at it state by state, rather than county by county as the NRDC did.  We used the FHWA's 2010 data, which is the latest available. NRDC divided by the national fleet average MPG to get a gallons-per-capita measurement (they didn't adjust for local or regional differences in average MPG, which are very slight within the U.S.).  We have left the data as miles per capita driven, which in the absence of any adjustment for differences in local average MPG gives the same comparison among states (U.S. fleet average MPG is about 20, so divide the above miles-driven figures by 20 for a direct comparison do the NRDC data).

Tabular data

State or territoryVMT Per CapitaRankPopulation
Nationwide Ave.9608 308745538
Wyoming169761563626
Mississippi1342722967297
Alabama1342434779736
Oklahoma1272843751351
New Mexico1229952059179
North Dakota122856672591
Missouri1183375988927
Indiana1168586483802
Vermont115829625741
Georgia11532109687653
Arkansas11490112915918
Montana1131012989415
Tennessee11100136346105
Kentucky11063144339367
Maine10953151328361
South Dakota1088916814180
North Carolina10737179535483
Minnesota10677185303925
Nebraska10643191826341
South Carolina10621204625364
Kansas10480212853118
Wisconsin10448225686986
Florida104122318801310
West Virginia10363241852994
Iowa10304253046355
Virginia10270268001024
Idaho10080271567582
Louisiana10023284533372
Delaware996529897934
New Hampshire9924301316470
Michigan9872319883640
Maryland9721325773552
Ohio96943311536504
Utah9619342763885
Arizona9397356392017
Colorado9333365029196
Texas93063725145561
Oregon8816383831074
Connecticut8756393574097
California86664037253956
Washington8505416724540
New Jersey8306428791894
Massachusetts8303436547629
Illinois82454412830632
Pennsylvania78984512702379
Rhode Island7867461052567
Nevada7820472700551
Hawaii7347481360301
New York67734919378102
Alaska675650710231
District of Columbia596751601723

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