Drivers in the U.S. traveled a record-breaking number of miles last year, for the fifth straight year of increased driving on public roads, according to new federal data.
U.S. driving topped 3.2 trillion miles in 2016 — up from 3.1 trillion the previous year, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) said Tuesday. Drivers logged more than 263.6 billion miles in December 2016 alone, which is a 0.5 percent increase over the previous December, the FHWA added.
The agency said the statistics underscore the need for major infrastructure improvements, as the strain on America’s roads and bridges continues to grow. President Trump has promised to inject $1 trillion into the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, including for U.S. roads, bridges and highways.
The number of miles that are traveled on U.S. roads is closely watched because states are beginning to test taxing drivers based on how many miles they drive, instead of how many gallons of gas they buy.
The plan, known in transportation circles as Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), faces some opposition in Washington, where it has been floated as an alternative to the 18.4 cents per gallon gasoline tax that is currently used to pay for infrastructure projects. The federal gas tax hasn’t been raised in over 20 years.
A combination of factors has helped boost U.S. driving, including lower gas prices, a decrease in unemployment and the prevalence of more fuel-efficient vehicles.
But the uptick in vehicle miles traveled last year was also accompanied by a projected rise in traffic fatalities. A total of 40,200 people died on U.S. roads in 2016, the highest level in almost a decade, according to preliminary estimates from the National Safety Council (NSC).
The number of traffic fatalities last year represents a 6 percent increase over 2015 and a 14 percent increase over 2014 — the sharpest two-year escalation in more than 50 years, the safety group said.