(Adds demand figures numbers and more details)
By Jarrett Renshaw
NEW YORK, March 15 (Reuters) - Motorists traveled 242.3 billion miles (390 billion km) on U.S. roads and highways in January, a 2.2 percent increase over the same period last year, according to U.S. Department of Transportation figures released on Wednesday.
The strong driving numbers undercut preliminary estimates from the Energy Information Administration that demand for gasoline was fading after a record surge in 2016.
U.S. demand for gasoline hit record levels last year, averaging 9.326 million barrels per day, surpassing 2007 levels, according to the EIA. But the agency said the four-week average hit 8.2 million barrels a day, the lowest since February 2012, stoking fears among refiners that fuel margins could be punished.
Analysts said the EIA numbers, which are preliminary estimates, underestimated U.S. consumption and overestimated exports. The EIA will provide more reliable monthly numbers for January later this year.
U.S. gasoline demand is closely watched by traders since it accounts for roughly 10 percent of global consumption.
Motorists drove a record 3.22 trillion miles (5.2 trillion km) on U.S. roads last year, a 2.8 percent rise from 2015 and the fifth consecutive year of year-over-year increases, federal figures show. (Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by G Crosse and Peter Cooney)