May 12, 2020 / 6:22 PM / 17 days ago

UPDATE 1-U.S. motorists drove 19% fewer miles in March amid coronavirus

(Adds more details, background)

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON, May 12 (Reuters) - Travel by U.S. motorists fell nearly 19% in March from the same month last year as the coronavirus pandemic prompted millions of Americans to work from home, the U.S. Transportation Department said on Tuesday.

In total, travel on U.S. roads fell in March by 50.6 billion miles over March 2019 to 221 billion vehicle miles. The biggest decline was in the northeast United States, where traffic fell 21%. It was the lowest March total for U.S. miles driven since 1999.

The biggest decline nationally was in Washington State, an early hot spot in the coronavirus pandemic, where driving was fell 29% in March.

The decline in driving is also being fueled by the massive U.S. economic woes. The U.S. economy shed 20.5 million jobs in April, and the unemployment rate rose to 14.7%, a government report Friday showed.

The decline in driving comes even as U.S. retail gasoline prices are down about 35% versus May 2019 to an average of $1.85 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

EIA on Tuesday said oil demand is set to fall by 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2020 to 18.3 million bpd.

The EIA said it expects U.S. motor gasoline consumption to fall to an average of 7 million bpd in the second quarter from 8.6 million bpd in the first quarter, and gradually increase to 8.7 million bpd in the second half of the year.

Since 2014, U.S. drivers have logged at least 3 trillion miles annually. (Reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Chris Reese and Nick Zieminski)

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