Connected Vehicle Data: A Smoother Road to Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT)

Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is a key metric in decision making for many governments and businesses. Studying VMT (also known as vehicle kilometers traveled outside of America) can lead to insights in changing behavior, such as the shift in traffic trends from COVID-19, it can provide vital information regarding traffic management for smart cities, help businesses make smarter choices for infrastructure development and retail planning, and much more.

Historically, highway infrastructure has been funded by fuel taxes.  The rise of fuel efficient vehicles, hybrid and fully electric vehicles is changing that paradigm. As a result, vehicle miles traveled data is becoming an important topic in policy-making.

It has become evident that taxes and infrastructure planning will be heavily dependent on this metric.  The adoption of electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles has prompted many governments to rethink their tax policies. Setting a tax on VMT is quickly becoming a popular alternative. However it should be noted that current methods of obtaining VMT data are often inaccurate.

Vehicle telematics data from connected cars can offer a better solution.

What is Vehicle Miles Traveled or VMT?

Vehicle miles traveled is a measurement of the total distance traveled by all vehicles in a given area over a given period of time. It is calculated as the sum of the total miles traveled by each vehicle.

How is VMT Calculated?

Vehicle miles traveled is usually calculated based on measurements made by  traffic counters on public roadways. Traffic counters are usually electric sensors placed in specific locations on the roads to count how many vehicles pass the sensors at each point. The traffic count is multiplied by the distance measured to determine how many miles each vehicle has traveled.

In the USA, there are only 5,000 traffic counting locations nationwide. Practices used to identify VMT vary significantly by state and are often not thoroughly documented. Some states sample as few as 10% of roads, and others make counts on a cycle of up to 9 years. In fact, according to the US Federal Highway Administration, “about half of US States indicated that they had no idea or way to determine how accurate their estimates were. Of the other half, most (76%) believed that their estimates were within 20 percent of the actual value.”

Problems with current methods include:

  • Incomplete data collection: Traffic counters appear on a small sample of roads and do not provide a complete understanding of traffic and VMT
  • Underrepresentation of data: Roads are often underrepresented in rural areas or dense urban areas
  • Uncontextualized data: Traffic counters can not determine origin and destination information or in-vehicle parameters
  • Delayed data collection: Data processing and publishing can take up to 3 months from the time of the initial traffic data collection

These limitations make it difficult for traffic engineers and municipalities to determine accurate traffic patterns, and hinder efficient infrastructure planning, understanding of population changes and migration, and fuel tax projections.

Why is Connected Car Data a Better Way to Calculate VMT?

Connected car data is rich data collected, in real-time, directly from vehicles anywhere, so it is not dependent on counters in specific locations. The collection of data from connected vehicles is more accurate and cuts down on VMT processing time.

Vehicle data provides data attributes including enriched location data, like the origin and destination of vehicles, and dozens of other attributes to provide context and insights on traffic patterns and fuel consumption. 

Connected Vehicle Data: A Better Way to VMT

Connected vehicles provide a better way to capture real-time traffic data for VMT.  Vehicle data from connected cars provide dozens of streaming data attributes such as odometer data, location data, speed, ignition status, and more. The rich data from connected cars enable  analysts and traffic engineers to obtain a richer and more accurate understanding of traffic flows and result in more accurate metrics.  This accuracy is key  when calculating vehicle miles traveled.

In contrast to using road counters, with connected vehicles, data can be gathered on any and all roads on which they travel. Furthermore, data from connected vehicles is continuously  transmitted, enabling traffic analysts to view anomalies in traffic flows and changes in VMT in near real time.

The nuances of connected vehicle data also provide context to VMT, better serving use cases that rely on the metric.

  • Travel demand and congestion projections: Connected vehicle data provides a better understanding of traffic demand because it shows differing travel patterns over time, as well as trips data. Trips data, provided by Otonomo, uses advanced algorithms applied to several attributes to create a cohesive picture of vehicle trips. It contextualizes travel demand because it does not simply show how many cars are on a given road, but where they are coming from and where they are going. Seeing this, combined with real-time, constant coverage, allows traffic analysts to detect patterns and anticipate changing demand for better urban and transportation planning, and traffic management.
  • Fuel and VMT taxes: Telematics data from connected vehicles provides a more accurate picture of VMT to project potential tax revenue. For governments moving forward with VMT-based tax collection, connected vehicle data provides a seamless way to precisely identify usage. Connected vehicle data can be used to identify vehicle models, including electric vehicles which could be used for tax rebates for using renewable energies.
  • Location intelligence: VMT is a key metric used by businesses to identify movement and growth of population for retail planning purposes, to track economic trends, or to gauge fuel demand. Connected vehicles provide rich data that contextualize and compliment a more accurate VMT metric by showing data inclusive of all roads, trips data, and more.
  • Vehicle usage: Vehicle manufacturers and tier-1 suppliers use VMT to track vehicle usage and anticipate demand for products.

Interested in learning more about VMT and other types of data from connected vehicles? Speak with one of our data experts.

Essential Guide to Evaluating Vehicle Traffic Data

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