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AAA Identifies Motorist Breaking Point on Gas Prices in New Consumer Index

on April 26, 2013 1:57 PM

Nearly two-thirds of consumers offset high gas prices with driving or lifestyle changes

Half of U.S. adults consider gas prices to be “too high” when it reaches $3.44 per gallon, indicating a potential breaking point on gas prices, according to a new national consumer price index developed by AAA. Roughly two-thirds of Americans (62 percent) are offsetting high gas prices by changing their driving habits or lifestyle.

“Just a few short years ago, drivers were shocked to pay more than $3 per gallon,” according to Jim Lehman, president of AAA East Central. “The continued trend of higher gas prices has resulted in consumers adjusting their “breaking point closer to $3.50 per gallon. Although high gas prices alone have not impacted vacation travel, fuel costs have forced many motorists to change their daily driving habits,” he added.

AAA’s gas-price index tracks consumer attitudes by determining at what price the cost of gasoline becomes too high. The results from the open-ended survey demonstrate how attitudes can be expected to change as prices rise above significant milestones:

    46 percent believe gas is too high when the price reaches $3.00 per gallon
    61 percent believe gas is too high when the price reaches $3.50 per gallon
    90 percent believe gas is too high when the price reaches $4.00 per gallon

According to AAA’s index, consumers report changing their driving habits or lifestyle in a number of ways to offset recent gas prices, including:

    Driving less – 86 percent
    Reducing shopping or dining out – 71 percent
    Driving a more fuel efficient car – 54 percent
    Delaying major purchases – 53 percent
    Working closer to home – 39 percent
    Carpooling – 33 percent
    Using public transportation more regularly – 15 percent
    Other – 18 percent

Younger consumers ages 18-34 are more likely to offset recent gas prices by working closer to home or using public transportation more regularly than adults ages 35 and up (48 percent vs. 35 percent and 25 percent vs. 10 percent, respectively). These results could suggest a generational shift in terms of attitudes towards driving, but it is too early to say whether these attitudes would continue into the future.

Today’s national average price of gasoline is $3.512 per gallon, but prices currently vary by more than $1 per gallon nationwide. The national average has remained above $3.00 per gallon for 28 consecutive months. Pittsburgh hit its record high, $4.054, on June 18, 2008. Today Pittsburgh motorists are paying an average $3.660 per gallon, down more than 30 cents from last year.   

AAA developed the price index by asking respondents, “At what price do you start to consider the cost of gasoline to be too high? Please tell me the price per gallon to the nearest ten cents.” AAA combined the answers from 974 respondents to determine the potential consumer breaking point for high gas prices.

This report presents the findings of a telephone survey conducted among two national probability samples (landline only and cell phone), consisting of a combined total of 1,011 adults (503 men and 508 women), 18 years of age and older and living in the continental United States. Interviewing for this survey was conducted on March 28-30. The total included 661 interviews from the landline sample and 350 interviews from the cell phone sample. This study has a 95 percent margin of error of ±3.8 percent.

AAA East Central is a not-for-profit organization with 82 local offices in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and New York, servicing 2.7 million members.

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