I just got the Ward’s Motor Vehicle Facts and Figures 2011, and it’s as full of useful information as Ripley’s Believe it Or Not. I trust Ward’s, so all this stuff is guaranteed gospel. Overall it adds up to quite an endorsement for the greening of the automobile industry. If you doubt me, read on:

1. Drive, he said: In 2008, the latest available year, Americans drove 2.6 trillion miles, which was up from a mere 1 trillion in 1970. There were only 200 million Americans in 1970, and today there are 311 million, but it still represents a pretty big increase in driving — more than double the total miles (without even including big trucks, buses or motorcycles). Per capita, we went from 9,989 average annual miles to 11,788.

2. Sipping fuel: In that same time period, the amount of fuel used increased, though not as much as you’d expect — cars are now incredibly more fuel-efficient than the big gas guzzlers of 1970. You should see the declines in V-8 engines (while four-bangers are on the rise)! We used 67 billion gallons of fuel in 1970, and 71 billion in 2009. Average annual fuel use per capita fell from 737 gallons to 522 (2008). The key to understanding those numbers is explained by that svelte number at right — the 2011 Prius and its 50 mpg combined fuel economy.

3. California dreamin’ (and drivin’): Which state do you think has the most vehicle miles traveled? You’re right if you guessed the “one big freeway” state of California, which swamped the competition with 324 billion in 2009. Next up, Texas, at 230 billion. This is why California needs its own emission standards. The state with the fewest miles traveled was Delaware (3 billion), followed by Alaska (4.9 billion). That’s funny, the biggest state (with a whole mess o’ wilderness), and one of the smallest.

4. Toyota rules: The carmaker with the best corporate average domestic fleet fuel economy performance for 2010 was Toyota (36.4 mpg), followed in descending by Subaru (34.8), Honda (34.7), Ford (32.3), GM (30.6) and Chrysler (28).

5. Read it and weep: Like I said, cars are more fuel-efficient: Gas guzzler tax receipts fell from a high of $201 million in 2005 to just $99.3 million in 2009. Average price for a gallon of regular gas in 1985: $1.20 a gallon. In 2010: $2.78. Today: $3.70.

Yes, we haven’t done much to curb out appetite for headin’ out to the highway, but we’ve been scared straight by high gas prices and we’re doing it in much greener cars and trucks.

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

5 super-interesting car facts we just learned
We still drive when our destination is across the street, but Americans are buying cleaner cars and using less gas these days.