The Pursuit of Gas-Price Happiness

Despite higher prices, most consumers not considering less driving--for now

AAA NACS Gas Station (CSP Daily News / Convenience Store Petroleum)

WASHINGTON -- Two consumer surveys find that despite higher gasoline prices, most people have not yet taken big steps to reduce fuel consumption. The inflection point for the majority, however, may be drawing near.

According to a new survey by AAA, 53% of adults said they were making changes to help offset gasoline prices, about 15% fewer than those polled in spring 2013.

"Many people seem to be feeling less pressure to make significant changes in their lives on account of high gas prices," said Bob Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA. "Less-expensive gasoline may encourage people to drive more and worry less about the financial burden of filling up their tanks."

Consider that despite a longer-term downward trend, gasoline demand rose 1.1% in 2013, the biggest annual increase since 2006, according to the Energy Information Administration. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reported that vehicle miles travelled in 2013 rose a similar amount to hit an estimated 18.1 billion miles.

Increased production and supplies have helped keep gasoline prices lower than in previous years. AAA reported that the national average price of gasoline in 2014 may end up falling nearly 15 cents per gallon short of its peak in 2013, and around 30 cents per gallon less than in 2012.

Despite the lower prices, consumers are not necessarily happy with the current state of affairs, the AAA has found. The same percentage of folks compared to 2013 think gasoline prices are too high, with 50% believing gasoline is too high at $3.30 per gallon, and 65% at $3.50 per gallon. The current national average for regular gasoline is $3.596 per gallon.

"People may be less likely to change their habits, but they do not seem any happier at the pumps," said Darbelnet. "Many drivers grudgingly realize that paying more than $3 per gallon for gasoline is the new normal, but they remain frustrated with the price."

Around one-half of consumers polled by AAA said they were changing driving habits or their lifestyle to offset high gasoline prices, with combining errands or trips (85%), driving less (84%) and delaying major purchases (52%) as the top three moves. Young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 were more likely to than older adults to choose working closer to home (60% vs. 34%), carpooling (49% vs. 23%) and using public transportation more regularly (32% vs. 11%).