The most recent issue of The Review, a publication by transportation consulting firm Steer Davies Gleave, has an interesting graph on the relationship between GDP and VMT.
As the graph makes clear, VMT does not always track the growth (or decline) in GDP. Explaining this relationship between driving and economic activity, the article reasons:
When highway construction and growth in car ownership peaked in the 1950s, a strong bidirectional link between VMT and GDP was observed. In contrast, analyses examining more recent years, when highway construction subsided and car ownership reached saturation, reveal a weaker correlation between the two variables.
For a time in America’s history, VMT grew in lockstep with GDP. But in recent years the two variables appear increasingly disconnected, particularly since the recent depression. We are still figuring out what the post-housing crash world looks like, but data like this suggests that growing the economy does not require increasing the amount we drive.