Michigan House panel considers ban on mobile phone use while driving

Low fuel prices spark Americans to drive more

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Low gas prices are spurring Americans to drive more.

The U.S. Transportation Department says in a new report that Americans drove 6.1 billion more miles in February — up 2.8 percent over a year earlier — to 221.1 billion miles — and the second-most ever driven in a February and highest jump in 11 years.

In the first two months of 2015, driving was up 3.9 percent. February was the 12th consecutive month of increased growth.

Average gas prices are $2.51 a gallon — nearly $1.20 a gallon lower than a year ago — but at the highest level in four months. Gas prices averaged nearly $4 a gallon in 2013 but fell to nearly $2 a gallon earlier this year — the lowest price in nearly a decade.

The biggest increase in driving was in the West, with 13 western states seeing traffic rise 6.6 percent. The numbers would likely have been higher except for a brutal winter in the northeast, where traffic was up just 1.4 percent in February.

At 13.3 percent, Oregon led the nation with the largest single-state traffic increase, followed closely by Montana at 12.8 percent and Indiana at 8.9 percent.

Michigan traffic was up 2.2 percent in February after rising 9.4 percent in January.

"By measuring the demands placed upon our nation's roads and bridges, we are better able to understand the need for greater investment in them," said Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Gregory Nadeau. "Americans are driving farther and more frequently, which makes additional investments in our highway system more important now than ever."

Last year, Americans drove 3.02 trillion miles in 2014, up 1.7 percent over 2013 and the highest number driven since 2007, fueled by a sharp decline in oil prices. At the current spike in driving, Americans are on pace this year to break the all-time record.

The figure was the second highest since the government began collecting data 79 years ago. In the late 1980s, Americans were driving just 2 trillion miles a year. The record in 2007 was 3.03 trillion miles. But per capita and per vehicle driving has declined in recent years.

"Americans are driving their cars at near-record levels, and being stuck in traffic is costing drivers an average of nearly five days a year," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who has pitched a big jump in highway spending as part of a six-year funding measure.