updated 7/15/2011 3:19:22 PM ET 2011-07-15T19:19:22

It's been known among electric-car advocates for years that so-called "range anxiety" -- the fear that you'll run out of charge and be stranded -- is somewhat overblown.

Volumes of data show that virtually every American car covers less than 100 miles a day. And even fewer people will ever drive across the country on the spur of the moment, despite what advertisements by a large U.S. company, which sells a range-extended plug-in car, promote.

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But now even more information has come out confirming that Americans don't drive as far as they think. Nissan has released data from its first 1,500 Leaf electric car buyers, showing that in fact they drove far less each day than the car's electric range.

And those Leaf owners almost all used the car as their primary, sometimes only, vehicle.

The daily average mileage on those first Leafs was "well below 60," according to Brendan Jones, director of Leaf marketing and sales strategy during an interview.

And the average single drive was 7 to 12 miles, allowing at least some Leaf owners to recharge during the day if they felt so inclined.

The average daily charging time, Jones said, was between 2.5 and 3 hours a day on a 240-Volt recharging station -- well below the 6 to 8 hours needed to recharge a fully depleted pack.

Few Drive 100 Miles a Day

And Nissan's experience is borne out by many studies using much larger pools of vehicles and drivers.

In explaining the concept behind the 25-to-40-mile electric range of its 2011 Chevy Volt, GM cites over and over the statistic that more than 70 percent of U.S. vehicles travel less than 40 miles a day.

When you get up to 100 miles (the range of a Nissan Leaf under some circumstances), the percentage of cars that exceed that distance drops to single digits.

We're a nation with the myth of the open road embedded in our DNA. But for almost all of us, almost all the time, the open road leads to the mall, school, jobs, stop-and-go traffic and a fairly predictable usage pattern.

A Moment of Clarity

This was highlighted by Nelson Ireson, editor for performance and luxury vehicles at MotorAuthority, who recently spent a week with a 2011 Chevy Volt.

He was surprised to find a single charge of the Volt's pack lasted through three days of errands and short trips, including grocery runs, quick lunch dashes and a trip to the movies.

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In fact, he drove a total of just 21 miles over that period, despite living in what many would consider the least optimal environment for the Volt: the sprawling, sweltering suburbs of the South.

The fact is, people really don't drive as far as they think they do.

But range anxiety will only fade through the process of education and acclimatization, as the first battery-electric cars start to show up and their owners answer questions from curious neighbors. Over time, those first owners will be able to reassure many that electric cars aren't as scary as some imagine.

And, to be fair, electric cars aren't for everyone. If you cover more than 100 miles a day, or suddenly need to visit places several hours away, stick with gasoline, preferably a higher-mileage hybrid or clean diesel, of course.

© 2012 Discovery Channel


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