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Americans Drive More, So Could Demand for Autos Recover?

The number of miles driven on American roads stopped falling in the latest statistics from the Federal Highway Administration, reversing a trend for about the last year and a half.

That's an encouraging sign for auto sales and for the U.S. economy, since it implies demand for autos should start to recover.

General Motors CEO Fritz Henderson noted the trend, in a press briefing for the "New GM" earlier this week. "The number of miles driven is rising again," he said.

Miles-driven figures had kept right on increasing, even when U.S. gas prices initially passed $2 per gallon, and then $3 per gallon. But when gas passed $3.50 and then $4, the figures started falling, by the biggest margins since the FHWA started keeping track, in 1970. Even after gas prices subsided, the numbers didn't recover until the most recent figures.

Last month, the FHWA reported that miles driven in May 2009 were an estimated 257.3 billion miles, an increase of 0.1 percent versus the year-ago month. The May figures were the latest available.

The FHWA collects vehicle-miles-traveled data through more than 4,000 automatic traffic recorders operated round-the-clock by state highway agencies.