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April 25, 2016 10:10 AM, EDT

Motor Travel Rises at Record Pace in February

Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg News

U.S. motor travel surged at a record pace in February as Americans took to the road again after January's historic snowstorms, U.S. data released April 25 showed, fueling optimism about gasoline demand as refiners brace for the busy summer driving season.

U.S. motorists logged 232.2 billion miles, the most for any February and up 5.6% from a year earlier, the U.S. Department of Transportation said. The increase was the largest year-over-year bump since at least 1991, it added.

The data suggest that the slowdown caused by a late-January snowstorm which stranded millions in the U.S. Northeast was unusual. Traders had worried that the decline in gasoline demand, the first in 14 months, signaled waning long-term demand.

"Lots of people couldn't drive, so when the snow thawed and the weather warmed up in a bit in February, people were stir crazy and made up for lost time," Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group, said.

The February numbers are a good sign that gasoline demand will remain strong in the summer driving season that starts next month, he said. "I think it's here to stay."

The United States has experienced a sustained surge in driving, fueled in large part by cheaper gas and low unemployment. The average U.S. gas price was $2.14 per gallon on April 25, down from $2.52 a year ago, according to the website of motorists' advocacy group AAA.