By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. motorists drove 7.1% more miles in October over the same month last year as people returned to offices and resumed leisure trips, but the distance was off slightly from pre-pandemic levels and traffic deaths jumped dramatically.
The Federal Highway Administration said on Monday that motorists drove 277.5 billion miles in October, up 18.5 billion miles from October 2020, but still down 5.6 billion miles from October 2019. For the first 10 months of 2021, road travel is up 11.2%, or 262.5 billion miles, over last year.
The numbers remain down in part because millions of workers are working primarily from home.
Travel was up 0.5% over September levels. Travel on rural roads now exceeds pre-pandemic levels, while travel on urban roads still lags 2019 levels.
In the 12 months ending in October, the United States logged 3.09 trillion miles driven, which is at roughly the same rate as in 2015 - and about 168 billion fewer miles than the 12-months ending in October 2019.
The percentage increase in traffic deaths has exceeded the rise in driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in October that road deaths rose 18.4% in the first six months of 2021 from the same period a year earlier, for the deadliest first half on American roads since 2006.
Traffic deaths surged after coronavirus lockdowns ended in 2020 as more drivers engaged in unsafe behavior like speeding and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, regulators said. That made for the largest six-month increase ever recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System's history, which has been in use since 1975.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in October that his department would release a strategy in January with a comprehensive set of actions to reduce serious traffic injuries and deaths.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Howard Goller)