WASHINGTON Americans drove fewer miles in December for the 14th month in a row, but the decline was not as steep as in previous months because cheaper gasoline prices encouraged travel in some states, the U.S. Transportation Department said on Thursday.
U.S. highway travel was down 1.6 percent in December compared with a year earlier, falling 3.8 billion miles to 237 billion miles. That was a much smaller drop than the 5.4 percent decline in November or October's 3.7 percent falloff.
While the weak U.S. economy reduced total highway travel, falling pump prices during December helped keep some drivers on the roads longer, the department said.
The average price for regular unleaded gasoline declined 20 cents a gallon over the month.
Nonetheless, December was still the 14th straight month of declining highway travel, which now tops 115 billion fewer miles driven since November 2007.
For 2008 as a whole, the number of miles driven dropped 3.6 percent, almost 108 billion miles less than in 2007, the department said. It was the lowest yearly level for highway travel since 2003.
Despite the national decline in December miles traveled, 17 states posted slight increases, with Colorado having the biggest jump at 5.4 percent.
The biggest declines among the states in miles driven during December were 14.7 percent in Oregon and 11.1 percent in Washington, because of unusually large snowfall.
A downside of less driving and more fuel-efficient cars is a slowing of the amount of money going to the Highway Trust Fund from a federal tax on gasoline sales.
The Transportation Department tracks motorists through more than 4,000 automatic traffic recorders operated by state highway agencies.
(Editing by Walter Bagley)