WASHINGTON - U.S. highway travel fell in October by 0.5 percent from a year earlier, the first decline in five months, the U.S. Transportation Department said on Tuesday.
That drop mirrors preliminary Energy Department data which shows motor fuel consumption fell 0.1 percent in October from a year ago.
The decline of 1.4 billion miles driven by consumers in October, after four straight months of increases, reflected an economy that is still sputtering.
I think the economy, while recovering, still has some struggles ahead and that has resulted in tepid gasoline demand, said Phil Flynn, analyst at PFGBest Research, .
Flynn said the drop in gasoline consumption has kept fuel prices low, which in turn should help jump start demand.
Many Americans changed their driving habits in response to
last year's record fuel prices, using public transportation and buying more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Consumers are more cognizant of wasting fuel, Flynn said.
Cumulative travel through October of this year was up a slight 0.2 percent, or 4.8 billion vehicle miles, from the same period in 2008, according to the Transportation Department.
During October, highway travel declined in the Northeast by 1.2 percent, in the Midwest by 1.3 percent and in the south central Gulf states by 1.2 percent. Highway travel increased in the West by 0.3 percent and in the south Atlantic states by 0.4 percent.
The Transportation Department tracks motorists through more than 4,000 automatic traffic recorders operated by state highway agencies.
(Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by David Gregorio)