U.S. consumers continued to cut back on gasoline purchases in the first 6 months of 2008, reducing overall demand for oil products to its lowest level in 5 years, a trade group said Wednesday.
Americans drove 12.2 billion miles fewer, or 4.7% less, in June than they did during June 2007, according to a report released Wednesday from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
U.S. driving levels have decreased in every month since November 2007. From November to June, Americans drove 53.2 billion miles fewer than they did over the same period last year, the study of more than 4,000 highway traffic recorders showed.
The recent 8-month drop surpasses the total 49.3 billion-mile driving decline seen from 1971 to 1980, when an oil embargo, high inflation and recession took a toll. Of course, Americans also drove about one-third as many miles in 1971 as they do today.
“It’s interesting that in just a few months, we’ve surpassed an entire decade typified by oil shortages and driving declines,” said Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation.
Driving declined as the price of gasoline continued to soar in June. Although gas prices have now fallen for 27-straight days to a national average below $3.80, at the end of June, U.S. drivers had to shell out a then-record average $4.086 for a gallon of gas, according to motorist group AAA.
June’s soaring fuel prices led to a nearly 2% drop in demand for gasoline vs. June 2007, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In the first quarter, Americans used 1.3% less gas than they did during the same period last year.
As a result, the Transportation Department said highways are not receiving enough revenue from the existing gas tax.
“We can’t afford to continue pinning our transportation network’s future to the gas tax,” said Mary Peters, U.S. Secretary of Transportation. “Advances in higher fuel-efficiency vehicles and alternative fuels are making the gas tax an even less sustainable support for funding roads, bridges and transit systems.”
Peters presented Congress with several measures for transportation reform in July, saying the government needs to move away from the 18.4 cents per gallon gasoline tax and 24.4 cents per gallon diesel tax. Congress plans to take up highway and transit legislation in 2009.
“It really makes little sense to try to upgrade our infrastructure using a revenue source as ineffective, unsustainable and unpopular as the fuel tax,” Peters said.