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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Executive Summary

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Executive Summary


The 2001 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) is the first comprehensive household survey of both daily and long-distance travel, allowing for analysis of the full continuum of personal travel by Americans. This report highlights the breadth of topics covered by the survey, the different kinds of analyses possible using the data gathered, and the unique features of these data.

In addition to providing the first comprehensive look at travel by Americans, the 2001 NHTS also incorporates additional enhancements to the previous survey designs (see box A). For example, long-distance travel was expanded to include trips as short as 50 miles and, for the first time, includes trips made for the purpose of commuting to workoften overlooked segments of personal long-distance travel. The survey also introduces the first look at the daily travel characteristics of children under the age of five years.

Box A
About the 2001 NHTS

This survey updates information gathered by two prior survey seriesthe Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey (NPTS) conducted in 1969, 1977, 1983, 1990, and 1995 and the American Travel Survey (ATS) conducted in 1977 and 1995. The final NPTS, sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration, primarily focused on daily travel, with an abbreviated long-distance component. The 1995 ATS, sponsored by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, provided a detailed look at long-distance travel defined as trips of 100 miles or more from home.

Furthermore, specific questions and probes were added to capture biking and walking tripstrips thought to be underrepresented in prior surveys. As a result of the changes to trip definitions, population coverage, and survey methodology, a limited amount of direct comparisons can be made between data from the 1995 surveys and the data from the 2001 NHTS, as presented in this report.

Within the 2001 NHTS, daily and long-distance travel do not have the same definition. While each includes travel by all modes and for all purposes, trips captured in daily travel are reported for one specific day referred to as the "travel day." Travel made from one address to another is reported as a separate trip; therefore, a trip does not have to originate from home and, in fact, home-to-home journeys made during the day are reported as multiple trips with varying originating locations. Conversely, long-distance trips are defined as trips of at least 50 miles to the furthest destinationoriginating from homeand include the return component of the trip as well as any overnight stops and stops made to change transportation modes. Long-distance trips were collected during a specific 4-week period, known as the "travel period." It is also important to note that trips of 50 miles or more away from home made during the travel day are potentially included both in daily and long-distance travel; however, the way in which the trips are reported differs in definition, details collected, and estimated distance traveled.

The objective of this report is to answer the questions of who is traveling in the nation, and how, why, when and where they are travelingboth on a daily basis and on longer distance trips. Consequently, this report is divided into three main areas:

  • travel-related characteristics of households and individuals in the United States,
  • characteristics of daily trips taken in the nation, and
  • characteristics of long-distance trips made domestically (and to other countries).


The 2001 NHTS data demonstrate a widespread prevalence of drivers and personal vehicles in the nation. Nationwide, about 88 percent of persons 15 years or older are reported as drivers (table A-1). While the mean number of vehicles owned or available to U.S. households is 1.9 personal vehicles, on average those households have 1.8 drivers (table A-2). Only 8 percent of households report not having a vehicle available for regular use (table A-4). Not surprisingly, the dominant mode of transportation for both daily and long-distance travel is by personal vehicle. The majority of daily trips, 87 percent, were taken by personal vehicle (table A-10). Similarly, 90 percent of long-distance trips of 50 miles or more away from home were made in personal vehicles (table 4 on p. 14).

Daily Travel

Results from the 2001 NHTS show that daily travel in the United States totaled about 4 trillion miles (table A-8), an average of 14,500 miles per person annually. On a daily basis, Americans averaged 4 trips per day, totaling on average 40 miles of travelmost of it (35 miles) in a personal vehicle. While there were no significant differences between men and women in the number of daily trips taken,1 there were differences based on age. The total number of trips peaked among the traditional working population ages 25 to 54 (4.6 daily trips) (table A-9). Children under the age of five made the fewest daily trips, but still averaged 3.2 trips per day. Individuals 65 years or older averaged 3.4 trips per day.

While the majority of daily trips were taken in personal vehicles, walking trips accounted for the next highest percentage at almost 9 percent of all trips (table A-10). Trips by transit and by school bus each represented approximately 2 percent of daily trips taken in 2001.

The largest portion of daily trips, 45 percent, was made for family and personal reasons, such as shopping and running errands (table A-11). Another 27 percent were made for social and recreational purposes, and 15 percent were made for commuting to work.

Long-Distance Travel

In 2001, Americans took about 2.6 billion long-distance trips of 50 miles or more, totaling over 1.3 trillion personal miles of long-distance travel (table A-22). The vast majority of these trips (98 percent) were to destinations within the United States, with 62 percent of all long-distance trips to destinations within the traveler's home state (table 5 on p. 15).

The majority of long-distance travel was made by men, accounting for 57 percent of all long-distance trips (table 3 on p. 12). Over half, or 57 percent, of all long-distance trips were taken by persons living in households with total household income of $50,000 or more (table A-19). Nearly two-thirds of all long-distance trips were made by persons aged 25 to 64 (table A-21).

Approximately 9 out of 10 long-distance trips were taken by personal vehicle. Trips by airplane accounted for the largest mode share of the remaining trips, representing over 7 percent of all long-distance trips in 2001. Travel by bus accounted for 2 percent of these trips, and train trips represented less than 1 percent of long-distance travel. Not surprisingly, the mode of transportation was strongly influenced by the distance of the trip. Personal vehicles were used for over 97 percent of all trips of less than 300 roundtrip miles, while nearly three-quarters of trips over 2,000 roundtrip miles were made by airplane (table 4 on p. 14).

Trips taken for pleasure purposesvacations, sightseeing trips, visiting friends and relatives, outdoor recreation, etc.represented over half (56 percent) of all long-distance trips taken in 2001 (figure 12, p. 14, table A-24a). Meanwhile, business trips to attend conferences or meetings accounted for 16 percent of long-distance travel, and commuting trips to work represented 13 percent of all long-distance travel. Trips made for personal reasons or family business represented 13 percent of these trips.

The remainder of the report takes a detailed look at traveler characteristics and the characteristics of long-distance and daily travel.

End Notes

NOTE: Tables with an "A" prefix (Tables A1, A2, etc.) can be found in Appendix A.

1. Although there are no significant differences between men and women in number of daily trips taken, differences do exist in the length and duration of trip.