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US driving hits new record in 2023, topping pre-COVID levels

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© Reuters. Vehicles are seen departing the Burning Man festival in Black Rock City, Nevada, U.S., September 4, 2023. REUTERS/Matt Mills McKnight

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Travel on U.S. roads in 2023 rose 2.1% to 3.263 trillion miles setting a new yearly record and topping pre-COVID 19 levels for the first time, the Transportation Department said Thursday.

Road travel overall last year was up 67.5 billion miles and up by 2.2% in December, according to preliminary data. In 2019, U.S. motorists logged 3.261 trillion miles for the year. U.S. driving sharply declined after COVID-19 lockdowns were imposed in early 2020 as many people worked from home.

The increase in driving comes as more Americans are returning to offices for work as businesses and federal agencies push workers to return.

Driving was also boosted by lower retail gasoline prices in 2023. U.S. retail gasoline prices last year averaged $0.43 per gallon less than in 2022, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

The U.S. retail price for regular-grade gasoline averaged $3.52 per gallon in last year as a result of lower prices in 2023 compared with 2022.

For 2020, driving fell 11% to 2.9 trillion miles, the lowest yearly total since 2003, but then rose 8% in 2021 to 3.14 trillion miles.

U.S. road deaths rose sharply after the COVID pandemic but have started to decline. Traffic deaths fell 4.5% in the first nine months of the year to 30,435.

U.S. traffic deaths jumped 10.5% in 2021 to 42,915, the highest number killed on American roads in a year since 2005. As U.S. roads became less crowded during the pandemic, some motorists perceived police as less likely to issue tickets, experts said, likely resulting in riskier behavior on the roads, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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