After a 20-year hiatus, the U.S. DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) conducted and, in late September 2023, published results from its new Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey (VIUS), much to the delight of truck and highway researchers across the land. If you’re unfamiliar with VIUS, you’re in a large club. This article is a quick primer on VIUS, and why this renewed BTS dataset could be important for researchers, trucking fleets, and professional drivers.
From 1963 through 2002, VIUS was conducted every five years and was the principal data source on the physical and operational characteristics of the U.S. truck population (class 1-8 trucks). This large, national survey was discontinued after 2002 for budgetary reasons. However, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics recently reinstated it, and published the data it collected from a sample of 150,000 trucks collected during 2022. The latest VIUS results include:
- Truck characteristics such as truck age, size and weight, fuel types, maintenance needs, and safety technologies such as driver assistance and collision warning/intervention features; and
- Truck use details such as driving frequency, miles traveled, commodities carried, and average miles per gallon for each truck type. Some key data points from both the 2002 and 2022 VIUS datasets include:
- The total number of trucks operated on U.S. roadways in 2022 was 169.8 million, nearly twice the 85.1 million recorded in 2002;
- The annual number of miles driven by these trucks was 1.9 trillion miles, a 70% increase from 1.1 trillion miles in 2002;
- Heavy-duty trucks with a GVWR over 26,000 pounds had an average fuel efficiency of 6.34 MPG, compared to 6.23 in 2002.
Any time large, new datasets like VIUS are published, truck and highway researchers start digging in to understand what it might mean for truck users and policymakers alike. In the coming months, we will start to see new articles and research reports with analyses and perspectives of this data, and more data points on what has changed since 2002.
We will also start seeing government officials cite this data as they make policy decisions. The USDOT, along with its State and local transportation counterparts, will use this new data to guide investments into roads, bridges, fueling station locations, and other transportation infrastructure (think truck parking) at the local level. With the current emphasis on the truck parking shortage throughout the U.S., this new data will likely be used to help determine areas with the greatest need for more truck parking spaces.
The USDOT has also communicated that this new data will be used to improve the fuel efficiency of the Nation’s truck fleet and analyze fees and allocation of costs among highway users. If you’re like us at STC, you might have been struck by the heavy-duty truck fuel efficiency numbers above (6.34 MPG in 2022 vs. 6.23 in 2002 – an improvement of less than 2%). It seems likely this lack of fuel efficiency progress by large trucks has garnered the attention of USDOT and U.S. Department of Energy officials alike. If that’s the case, we’re likely to see a renewed emphasis on programs and policies aimed at making greater fuel efficiency strides for large trucks. If so, there could be some near-term pain to achieve longer-term energy efficiency gains.