U.S. Sets Record for Highway Travel

If traffic jams seemed worse in 2015 than they have for several years, it was not simply due to your imagination. The U.S. reached a new peak for time on the road, according to new data from the Federal Highway Administration.

gas
Falling gasoline prices helped boost travel in 2015.

The agency said drivers logged 3.148 trillion miles last year, which surpasses the previous record of 3.003 trillion miles set in 2007 – in the days before the 2008 spike in gasoline prices and the 2009 recession damped the national road-tripping impulse.

The FHWA said the new record is roughly the same distance as 337 round trips between Earth and Pluto. The estimates include travel by passenger vehicles, buses, and trucks. The downside for drivers is that continued growth in travel and deterioration of the U.S. transportation infrastructure could make gridlock more of a way of life across the country.

trucks
Cheap fuel gave truck and SUV sales a boost.

In many ways 2015 defined the automobile’s recovery from the recession. Overall industry sales of cars and light trucks reached a new high of 17.5 million, surpassing the record of about 17.3 million set in 2000. The year was also marked by low gasoline prices that encouraged people to travel more by car and helped sales of larger, less-fuel-efficient but more profitable vehicles.

The report also includes seasonally-adjusted data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics that help to smooth out seasonal variations in travel and allow comparisons of vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, with any month in any year. The seasonally-adjusted VMT for December 2015 totaled 268.5 billion, which is a new seasonally-adjusted monthly record.

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