Number of cars in United States now equals the number of drivers Vehicle population grows 6 times faster than human, DOT finds


WASHINGTON -- They are bigger, stronger and faster than the last generation.

They come from all over the world, they live longer and healthier lives, and they fill the cities, suburbs and countryside, more quickly than anyone had imagined.

No, not children -- cars.

The Transportation Department said last week that since 1969, the vehicle population of the United States has grown six times faster than the human population.

The number of cars increased 2 1/2 times faster than the number of households and twice as fast as the number of drivers.

"Inundation is not too strong a term for it," said Alan E. Pisarski, a transportation expert.

A new version of an intermittent study, the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey, will be released in a few days.

The summary released last week by the Federal Highway Administration paints a startlingly changing picture of life on the road, from 1969, when the first survey was done, to 1995, when the latest was conducted.

Since the time of the first study:

The number of vehicles has risen by 144 percent, to 176 million. The number of drivers has also risen, but only by 72 percent. Drivers used to outnumber cars by 30 percent; now the two are equal.

The number of households without vehicles decreased to 8 million, or 7.9 percent of all households. In 1969 it was 12.9 million or 20.1 percent. The number of households with three or more vehicles is 18.7 percent now; it was 4.6 percent in 1969.

Cars, like people, are lasting longer than before. The number of cars 10 or more years old has increased by nearly sevenfold, to 52.5 million, from 7.8 million.

Pisarski said the growth spurt would not continue, because the rush of women into the work force and of baby boomers into the ranks of licensed drivers has ended.

A spurt in formation of new households is probably over too, he said, because households can- not continue to get smaller forever.

Average household size is now 2.6 people, he said, down from 3.3 in 1969.

"We're probably stabilizing at high levels, but the key point is it doesn't matter, once we have more vehicles than drivers," Pisarski said.

"Unless you accept the notion that a driver can drive more than one at a time, it's kind of like television sets. You can only be staring at one at a time."

"If you believe what the auto manufacturers are telling us, there'll be a car, in every household that can afford it, for every purpose," said David G. Van Sickle, a spokesman for the American Automobile Association.

"There will be a family sedan for hauling the family around, a sport 'ute' [utility vehicle] for climbing mountains, a sports car to go out and enjoy and fling around in every once in a while."

Cars, Van Sickle said, will be like shoes.

"There are dress shoes, athletic shoes and hiking boots," he said, and people commonly own all kinds.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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