By Jarrett Renshaw
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. road travel rose by 4 percent in the nation's warmest December on record, government data showed on Monday, and capped a record-setting driving renaissance amid cheap gasoline prices and lower unemployment.
Defying expectations that rapid year-on-year increases in driving would abate as motorists got used to low pump prices, drivers logged 264.2 billion miles on U.S. roads and highways in December, the most ever for the month, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
For the full year, U.S. drivers traveled 3.15 trillion miles, 3.9 percent more than the previous record set in 2007. The revival helped propel U.S. gasoline demand to a four-week rolling average of 9.3 million barrels per day, the second-highest tally for December on record and the equivalent to about a tenth of global oil use.
Some analysts cautioned that the strong December figures might have resulted more from temporary weather conditions than a more sustainable increase in consumption.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said this past December was the warmest on record for the contiguous United States, leading to below-normal snowfall for the dense U.S. Northeast.
Several upstate New York communities, for example, had their least snowy December on record, according to NOAA.
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and New Hampshire account for about 15 percent of U.S. gasoline consumption, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
"There's no doubt that the ability to drive without putting chains on your tires boosted driving in December, especially with gas prices being so low," Price Futures Group analyst Phil Flynn said on Monday.
In the United States, where heating oil demand is concentrated in the Northeast, the number of degrees a day's average temperature was below 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius) was 30 percent below normal in December.
Last year's rebound came during an ongoing period of low gasoline prices and strong job growth in the U.S. economy. Miles driven in December 2013 were up 1.1 percent from a year earlier, when gasoline prices seemed stuck at more than $3 a gallon.
The average U.S. pump price for gasoline was $1.71 a gallon on Monday, compared with $2.29 a year ago, according to motorists' advocacy group AAA.
(Reporting by Josephine Mason and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Von Ahn)