By Eileen Houlihan, senior writer/editor, ARTBA

American motorists drove 50.5 billion more miles, or 3.3 percent farther, in the first six months of 2016 compared to the first half of 2015, when vehicle miles traveled for the year hit a record over 3.1 trillion miles, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. June vehicle travel alone was up 8.6 billion miles, or 3.2 percent, from June 2015, the data showed. 

But the increase in travel has come with a price, the National Safety Council (NSC) said separately this week. Motor vehicle deaths for the first six months of the year totaled 19,100, a 9 percent increase from the same period in 2015, and an 18 percent jump from the corresponding 2014 period.

The NSC said many factors likely contributed to the fatality increase, including a stronger economy and a lower unemployment rate, but added, “average gas prices for the first six months of this year were 16 percent lower than 2015 levels, helping to fuel a 3.3 percent increase in the number of miles driven.” 

The data was released ahead of the U.S. Labor Day holiday weekend in early September, which the NSC said is likely to be “the deadliest Labor Day since 2008.” 

The FHWA data also shows drivers collectively covered an estimated 282.3 billion miles on the nation’s roads in June, up 2.9 billion miles from May’s total of 279.4 billion miles. Mileage increases were the largest in the West (4.1 percent) and South-Atlantic states (3.2 percent), areas that have also seen particularly large jumps in fatalities over the past two years, the NSC said.