How Much Time Do American Families Spend in Their Cars?

Each day, Americans drive about 25 miles and spend an average of one hour behind the wheel.

Jennifer Van Meter for Fatherly

Each day, Americans drive about 25 miles and spend an average of one hour behind the wheel. While many factors influence this figure — summer road trips pack on the miles, men drive about eight more miles per day than women, adults with kids take more trips to the grocery store — we can estimate how much time American families spend in their cars. Our best guess? Six percent of our waking hours are spent in a car, en route.

There are 4.12 million miles of road in the United States, and that’s a lot of ground for the 222 million drivers in this country to cover. Americans spend a whopping 84 billion hours driving each year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, adding something like 2.62 trillion miles to the odometer. American drivers make an average of 2.24 trips per day, according to AAA, and adults between the ages of 25 and 49 (the demographic that also includes most parents of small children) skew higher. Men drive slightly more miles per day than women, and folks living in the South drive the most, while those living in the Northeast drive the least.

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The seasons also influence our driving habits, according to the American Driver Survey. We drive fewer miles on the weekend than on weekdays (commute mileage outweighs that of day trips) and Americans drive most in the summer months (vacation!), and least in the winter months (because nobody wants to dig out the car). Not that we’re always in the car because we’re going somewhere. Drivers spend an average of 17 hours and about $97 per year searching for places to park, according to the research center INRIX, a figure that increases for city drivers.

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Regardless, we drive about one hour per day and sleep about eight hours per night. Which means a good six percent of an American family’s waking hours are spent behind the wheel. That’s a lot of our lives on the road.

So how can we spend less time in the car — or spend that time more efficiently? Start by figuring out when you can afford to ditch your vehicle. Can you commute by bicycle, or walk to a corner store to run quick errands? Can you take your lunch break as a stroll rather than a frantic drive to a crummy restaurant? Even if you live outside city limits, you have options. Consider driving into town and then picking up a bike as you run errands.

And when you have to be in the car, make the most of it. Talk to your kids as you drive them to school. Listen to a podcast together or, better yet, sing along with the radio. Take road trips. Play driving games. Make memories.

You’re going to spend an hour each day in the car. Make it count.

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