A new report by traffic information company INRIX highlights how fuel prices influence consumer driving patterns, congestion and public transit use and how to predict such changes for the future.

The INRIX National Traffic Scorecard Special Report takes an aggregate analysis of fuel prices, traffic congestion and an open survey of consumer opinions to create a predictive model for driving patterns. These results make implications that could potentially aid specialty-equipment manufacturers in developing strategies to understand fuel prices and their impact.

The study found that traffic congestion fell significantly during the first half of 2008, but was less dramatic in dense urban cities, such as New York City, Washington D.C. and Chicago. Nearly two-thirds of consumers changed driving behaviors. Of those, 69% took fewer driving trips; 34% made shorter trips; 9% carpooled; 8% began riding bikes or motorcycles; and 7% used public transportation.

In SEMA-conducted surveys, the results were similar. The most common strategies used to cope with high fuel prices were to drive less, combine errands or reduce recreational trips. The INRIX study showed a $4.50-per-gallon tipping point for road trips and leisurely driving with general consumers claiming they would significantly reduce the frequency of trips at this level.

Fuel prices are beginning to drop to lower levels, but in the instance that they begin to rise again, this level should be watched. When enthusiasts do drive, 64% claimed to change their driving habits.


"Although we can't predict the future price of fuel, we can predict the potential impacts to traffic congestion,” notes Bryan Mistele, INRIX founder and CEO. “As a whole, the population appears to have made lasting changes to their behavior, which we expect to persist at some level even if gas prices revert to pre-2007 levels."

The top cities with a negative correlation between fuel prices and traffic flow include Atlanta, Miami, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Springfield (Massachusetts), Daytona Beach, Orlando, Memphis, Charlotte and Riverside (California). Commuters in these cities reacted the most significantly as fuel prices increased.

Two other noteworthy details spring from this study. Atlanta, which topped the list, had a large swell of public transportation use. In order to meet the expanded demand, the city absorbed the rush by greatly expanding the capacity of public parking lots. In cities that heavily depend on vacation or leisure travel, such as Miami and Las Vegas, the decline in traffic congestion was attributed to fewer families being able to visit these destinations.

With any dominant social shift in behavior or spending fluctuations come consequential changes in the retail markets. Studies are suggesting that consumers are beginning to transform the way they view transportation and manufacturers of custom parts and accessories need to stay abreast of such shifts in order to stay competitive.

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