American driving mileage tops pre-pandemic levels in March

2 mins read
High gasoline prices in Los Angeles

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Americans are getting back behind the wheel, despite higher fuel prices.

The Federal Highway Administration said on Thursday motorists drove 277.4 billion miles (446.4 billion km) in March, up 7.9 billion miles over the same month in 2021, and up 5 billion miles over March 2019.

U.S. driving first topped pre-pandemic 2019 levels in January as Americans return to offices and businesses and leisure trips continue to rise.

But in March, U.S. gasoline prices soared above $4 a gallon after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Over the 12 months ending in March, U.S. drivers have logged 3.27 trillion miles, higher than any other comparable 12-month period, data showed.

Driving has rebounded substantially after pandemic lockdowns in 2020 sharply cut road use. Vehicle travel in 2020 fell 13.2% to 2.83 trillion miles, the lowest yearly total since 2001.

Driving in the first three months of 2022 was up 5.6%, or 40.2 billion miles to 753.7 billion miles and driving surpassed each monthly tally versus 2019. Drivers logged 753.1 billion miles in the first three months of 2019.

Some experts have warned that U.S. traffic fatalities may continue to rise in the face of higher driving. On Tuesday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said U.S. traffic deaths jumped 10.5% in 2021 to 42,915, marking the highest number killed on American roads in a single-year since 2005.

The yearly increase is the highest reported since NHTSA began using its current traffic fatality tracking system in 1975. The number of pedestrians killed jumped 13% to 7,342, hitting the highest number since 1981. The number of people on bicycles killed rose 5% to 985, the highest number since at least 1975.

(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Chris Reese and Marguerita Choy)