Americans drove less in September, 2011 on track to become worst year for driving image

September was not a good month for driving, at least for American drivers, as high gas prices put their mark on their driving habits.

According to a Federal Highway Administration report quoted by the Detroit News, Americans drove 3.7 billion fewer miles in September, the seventh consecutive month of decline. The FHWA said Americans have driven 29.8 billion fewer miles in the first nine months of 2011, making this year a strong candidate to record the lowest yearly number of miles driven since 2003. In September, driving fell by 1.5 percent to 244.2 billion miles, while in the first nine months driving declined by 1.3 percent to 2.2 trillion miles.

The Energy Information Agency said gas prices are still about 50 cents a gallon higher than last year, with the average recent price nationwide at the pump reaching $3.39, compared with $2.85 in 2010. As a consequence of driving less than before, Americans are using 500,000 fewer barrels of oil a day. Another consequence is that drivers may hold on to aging vehicles even longer as they drive less. The average age of vehicles on the road has risen to 10.6 years, the oldest ever.

The federal report is based on continous hourly traffic count data at 4,000 traffic counting locations worldwide. The U.S. surpassed 2 trillion annual miles traveled in 1988, and the 3 trillion mile mark in 2006. The U.S. hasn’t topped the 3 trillion mile mark since 2007.