ARKANSAS, February 9 (Future Headlines)- The U.S. Department of Transportation announced on Thursday that travel on American roads in 2023 reached a new milestone, surpassing pre-COVID-19 levels for the first time and setting a record high of 3.263 trillion miles traveled throughout the year. This marks a notable increase of 2.1% compared to the previous year and underscores a significant rebound in road travel following the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

Preliminary data reveals that road travel experienced a robust uptick of 67.5 billion miles in 2023, with December alone witnessing a 2.2% surge. Prior to the pandemic, U.S. motorists logged 3.261 trillion miles in 2019, showcasing a remarkable recovery to pre-pandemic levels of travel.

The resurgence in driving activity can be attributed to multiple factors, including the gradual return of Americans to traditional workplaces as businesses and federal agencies encourage employees to resume in-person work. Additionally, the affordability of gasoline played a pivotal role in driving up road travel, with U.S. retail gasoline prices averaging $0.43 per gallon less in 2023 compared to 2022, according to data from the U.S. Energy Department. This resulted in an average retail price of $3.52 per gallon for regular-grade gasoline last year, reflecting a decline fueled by lower crude oil prices.

The trajectory of road travel in recent years reflects the rollercoaster ride prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, driving plummeted by 11% to 2.9 trillion miles, marking the lowest yearly total since 2003. However, the following year saw an 8% rebound, with travel reaching 3.14 trillion miles in 2021.

Despite the positive trend in road travel, safety concerns persist, particularly regarding the alarming rise in traffic fatalities during the pandemic. While traffic deaths surged by 10.5% in 2021 to reach 42,915—the highest annual toll since 2005—there has been a glimmer of improvement. Preliminary data indicates a 4.5% decline in traffic deaths during the first nine months of 2023, with fatalities totaling 30,435.

Experts attribute the spike in traffic fatalities during the pandemic to various factors, including changes in driving behavior due to reduced traffic enforcement. As roads became less congested amid lockdowns, some motorists perceived a lower risk of receiving tickets from law enforcement, potentially leading to more reckless driving practices.

Moving forward, addressing safety concerns will remain a top priority for transportation agencies and policymakers. Efforts to enhance road safety may include bolstering enforcement measures, promoting public awareness campaigns, and investing in infrastructure improvements aimed at reducing traffic accidents and fatalities.

While the surge in road travel signals a return to normalcy for many Americans, the imperative to prioritize safety underscores the need for continued vigilance and proactive measures to ensure the well-being of all road users. As the nation navigates the post-pandemic landscape, striking a balance between mobility and safety will be paramount in shaping the future of transportation.

Reporting by Alireza Sabet; Editing by Sarah White