American driving in ’15 hits all-time record

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — American drivers in the first three months of the year hit a record high in miles driven — up 3.9 percent over 2014 — amid low gas prices.

The U.S. Transportation Department said Wednesday that Americans drove 261.7 billion miles in March, which is the most ever driven in that month. Through the first quarter, the nation drove 720.1 billion miles — the highest for any year’s first quarter, and 35 billion more than the same period last year.

The 720.1 billion miles driven on U.S. roads in the first quarter of the year beats the previous record of 705.7 billion set in 2006, and doubles the 345.5 billion miles in the first quarter of 1982.

Americans drove 3.9 percent more miles in March, the 13th consecutive month of increased growth.

In Michigan, drivers logged 4.8 percent more miles to 8.1 billion — up 371 million miles over March 2014 — as the number of miles on rural roads rose faster than urban roads in the state. U.S. gas prices have been rising in recent weeks and hit $2.74 a gallon on average last week, but that is still $0.92 a gallon lower than the same period last year.

Driving was up by only 2.2 percent in Michigan in February.

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. But per capita and per vehicle driving has declined in recent years.

The U.S. House on Tuesday passed a two month extension of highway spending — the 33rd short-term extension — as the Obama administration is pressing for a six-year bill and higher spending. The Senate is expected to follow suit before the current authority expires at the end of the month.

“The facts are unassailable. This era of short-term patches and chronic federal underinvestment has crippled America’s ability to build the transportation system we need,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, saying “this pattern of perpetual uncertainty must stop.”

“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 Foxx, who has pitched a big jump in highway spending as part of a six-year, $478 billion highway and transit funding measure.