Skift Take

The Great American Road Trip is back. After slumping in 2020, the number of miles Americans drove last year jumped more than 11 percent and was just 1 percent lower than in 2019.

U.S. drivers are back on the road in force.

Travel on U.S. roads rose 11.2% in December 2021 compared with December 2020, the second straight month that driving surpassed pre-Covid-19 levels, the U.S. Department of Transportation said on Friday.

The figures reflect more Americans traveling for leisure, more returning to offices and rising deliveries on U.S. roads, experts said.

U.S. driving also rose 11.2% for all of 2021, to 3.23 trillion vehicle miles, up from 2020’s 2.9 trillion. That was the lowest yearly total since 2003 as COVID shutdowns drastically reduced road use.

For all of 2021, drivers drove 325 billion more miles than they did in 2020. Overall 2021 driving was just 1% lower than 2019’s 3.26 trillion miles.

The Transportation Department said drivers logged 268.4 billion vehicle miles in December 2021, up 26.9 billion vehicle miles from the same month in 2020.

The Energy Information Agency says annual average motor gasoline consumption, which fell by an estimated 1.2 million barrels a day (b/d) in 2020 from 9.3 million b/d in 2019 increased by 0.7 million b/d in 2021.

EIA forecasts an “increase of 0.3 million b/d in 2022” and a “less than 0.1 million b/d” increase in 2023. “Driving trends will surpass pre-pandemic levels in 2022 and 2023, but they will be offset by continued increases in vehicle fleet fuel economy,” EIA said, adding consumption is expected to remain below 2019 levels.

The Transportation Department is especially worried about the dramatic rise in traffic deaths since 2020.

Traffic deaths rose 12% in the first nine months of 2021 to 31,720 — the highest number killed on American roads in that period since 2006, according to its initial estimate.

Traffic deaths surged during coronavirus lockdowns in 2020 as more drivers engaged in unsafe behavior like speeding and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.


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