Americans' driving numbers near pre-pandemic levels, DOT reports

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American roadways emptied during the pandemic, but recent data from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows that in late 2023, we hit the highways and byways at almost the same rates that we did before COVID-19.The DOT noted that U.S. drives logged 5.7 billion more miles in December 2023 than at the end of the previous year, a 2.2 percent increase, for a total of 263.7 billion miles as America’s driving habits returned to normal.

Split into road type, U.S. drivers tallied 82.9 billion miles on rural roads and 180.8 billion miles on urban roads and streets, with rural roads including interstates and other arterials, according to the Department of Transportation Traffic Volume Trends report. Total road travel last year reached 3,263.7 billion miles, helping Americans retain the title of the most car-crazy people on Earth.

Those numbers put the nation back to the peak mileage driven at the end of 2019, following a significant dip between 2020 and 2021, when miles fell to below 2,850 billion. Peak driving months have remained relatively constant for the last three years, with a significant jump between April and May, followed by a gradual decline as summer passes.

While there were far fewer drivers during the pandemic, our roads became more dangerous as people took advantage of sparse traffic by speeding and driving distracted. Fatalities spiked to more than 39,000 in 2020, the highest number since 2007, and climbed higher to almost 43,000 in 2021. Deaths dropped slightly to around 42,500 in 2022 before declining further in 2023 to an IIHS-estimated 40,990 in 2023.

The National Safety Council reported that deaths are down further in 2024, with the number of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles showing a decline in the first few months of the year compared to 2023. Several states have seen motor vehicle deaths fall by more than 25 percent through February of this year, so let’s hope the trend continues for the remainder of 2024.

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