None of the people I talked to had seen the report, but collectively they vouched for its accuracy ...

I was at a Maverik gas station in Salt Lake City on Monday, the day the Federal Highway Administration announced that Americans are driving less than a year ago.

Since last November, according to the FHA, as gas prices have risen Americans have cut down on their driving. This past March, the latest month for which statistics are available, the decline was 4.3 percent, representing 11 billion miles less than March of 2007.

Only one other time since 1942, when the FHA started estimating miles traveled, has there been a dip, and that was only briefly during the 1980 gas crisis.

This reduction seems to reflect a longer-term national trend.

So after I paid $68.69 to fill up my Cherokee, I asked other paying customers if they are indeed driving less these days.

Every person at every pump said yes except one.

And Tom Freeman had a good excuse.

"I'm in the commercial real estate business," he said as he put the hose back on its hook and stopped the bleeding at $101.00 to fill up his truck, a Nissan Titan. "If I want to make my living, it's (driving) what I do. I take clients around and show them property. It would be hard to pop them into a Toyota Corolla."

"It's either this," he said, motioning toward his truck, "or a Suburban — I'm screwed either way."

Other than Tom, everyone else I talked to said they are driving less.

Daniel Carrillo lives in Wendover and said he used to drive the 123 miles to Salt Lake City on a regular basis.

"We'd come just for fun," he said, "to shop at Sears or Wal-Mart or just look around.

"But now, it's only for necessities."

Daniel had put $50 worth of gas into his truck when he left Wendover and now he was back at the pump, empty.

Shelynn Evans works for a parking lot company and out of necessity drives quite a bit for her job, but on her personal travel she said she's backed way off.

"We used to go to the lakes and reservoirs, but we haven't done that this year," she said.

Finally, C.J. Bronson, driving a Hyundai with California plates, said that she absolutely doesn't drive as much as she used to. "I try to clump the things I have to do. I do in one trip what I used to do in three or five," she said.

She saw me eyeing her California plates and explained that she was in Utah only because her daughter, Lea, was trying out for "American Idol."

They had first gone to the tryouts in Arizona, but when Lea was rejected, they decided to give Utah a try before going home.

"A lot of people do this," she said, citing the legend of Jordin Sparks, who was rejected in an early tryout and went to another and ended up winning the whole thing in 2007.

Realizing a diversion to Utah from Arizona before going back to California was somewhat contradictory to her story that she's cutting back on her driving, C.J. smiled and said, "This is an exception. If we really need to go somewhere, we still go."

Four dollars a gallon notwithstanding, it remains the American way.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.