Ground transportation in the United States is so energy intensive that it’s an even bigger energy hog than flying, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
Research by UM’s Michael Sivak, using 2012 data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, “finds that driving today is actually considerably more energy intensive than flying, where energy intensity is defined as ‘the amount of energy needed to transport one person a given distance,’” the Washington Post reports.
“While airlines and cars have both gotten more energy efficient over time, one key factor in determining the energy intensity of a particular form of travel is how many people are being transported per trip. And on this score, jam-packed modern passenger planes have cars totally beat.”
Mooney notes that the averages in the study mask a lot of variation—energy-efficient vehicles and carpools use less fuel per person per mile, and longer flights are less energy intensive, since takeoff accounts for so much of an aircraft’s energy use.
And “if you fly a lot, your total energy use from flying may still outdistance your energy use from driving. That’s because a single flight tends to be a lot longer (and thus more energy consuming) than a single drive. The average drive, noted Sivak, is nine miles, whereas the average domestic flight is 895 miles.”