Americans drove less in 2011

US motorists drove 1.2 percent fewer miles in 2011, the lowest level measured since 2003, while concerns about the high cost of gasoline are rising, the government announced Tuesday.

According to Federal Highway Administration figures, last year US drivers drove 57.5 billion km less than they did in 2010.

Since 2008, the distance covered by US drivers, which is calculated by taking into account traffic volume on the highways, has fallen due to the economic crisis and the high price of gasoline.

Nevertheless, in December, the total number of miles driven rose slightly ending nine consecutive months of declines, although the mileage covered remains far from the maximum calculated in 2006.

The figures coincide with the current fear that gas will move above $4 per gallon, a situation that could place a burden on the economic recovery.

The Energy Information Administration reported that a gallon of gas this week cost $3.60 around the country, on average, something that the White House said was due to external factors, including greater consumption in India and China and unrest in the Middle East.

The combination of higher fuel prices and fewer miles driven has resulted in US consumers keeping their vehicles longer - now an average of almost six years - and also in buying more second-hand cars, rather than new ones, when they do need to replace them.

The figures could mean a reversal in growth expectations for the US automotive industry, which in 2011 registered record profits and hopes in 2012 to continue to improve, selling around 14 million units.

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