OK, but if they go any higher, THEN we’ll cut back…

By Chris Haak


A Reuters/Zogby poll released today concluded that 40% of Americans would curb their driving habits if gas reached $3.50 per gallon. Somehow, I do not believe this. It’s not that I am disputing the poll or its methodology; I dispute that Americans know what they are talking about with gas prices and how they will behave.

Gas prices in late May were already at an average of $3.23 per gallon nationwide. Assuming 22.5 miles per gallon combined economy and 15,000 miles driven per year, the annual cost difference between $3.23 and $3.50 per gallon is $180.09. That means a monthly difference of $15 or a weekly difference of $3.46.

Believe me, I complain about high gas prices as much as the next guy. We own two V6-powered vehicles (though one is a 5000-pound midsize body on frame SUV) and our “fleet average” is pretty close to 20 or 21 miles per gallon (the car a little above that, and it’s driven more; the SUV a little below that, and it’s driven less). I just don’t find it terribly credible for people to say that they will cut back on their driving if gas goes up another 27 cents per gallon from its late-May highs. Instead, I think that the steady climb of gas prices, particularly since early 2005, has almost conditioned the American public to accept them. I actually caught myself calling $2.74 per gallon “cheap” last weekend (and it was, relative to the prevailing $2.90 per gallon everywhere else near me). Meanwhile, US petroleum consumption – in spite of high prices – is actually increasing year over year. The fact is, most people have already cut out extraneous travel from their driving and are combining trips and using

I won’t talk much about advocating a gas tax at this time, but ironically, the one period when US petroleum consumption slowed or even declined in the past few years was immediately following Hurricane Katrina, when gas prices suddenly jumped $0.50 or more per gallon. It was a shock to consumers, rather than the Chinese water torture of steadily increasing prices has been for the past two years. Something sudden – like a tax – would likely have the same result.

The overall poll results about how gas prices would affect consumer behavior are:

  • 40% would curb their driving habits at $3.50 per gallon
  • 19% would curb their driving habits at $4.00 per gallon
  • 9% would curb their driving habits at $4.50 per gallon
  • 7% would curb their driving habits at $5.00 per gallon
  • 19% could not curb their driving habits regardless of price

The total above is 94%. Therefore, the implication is that in spite of gas prices being near all-time records in inflation-adjusted dollars, only 6% of drivers have curbed their driving habits.

A spokesperson for AAA, Geoff Sundstrom, probably said it best when he said, “It’s so hard to read what consumer behavior is going to be at higher price pionts – be that $3.50 per gallon or $4.00 per gallon – because we’re all in uncharted territory.”

However, given past history of the way Americans have complained, but basically shrugged off high gas prices, I expect more of the same as prices continue to rise in the coming years.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant.net – All Rights Reserved

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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  1. You Americans are so spoilt by the cheap gas. Huge trucks used by hausfrau to take their children to school. It is completely mad.

  2. Here in Michigan, I don’t know if anyone is cutting back on trips, but it’s easy to see they aren’t slowing down on the freeway when they do head out. It’s a rare day when I pass someone, since I only drive about 2mph over the limit. (That’s what I do to save gas) I hate to admit it, but given the relatively low miles we put on per year, $7 gas probably wouldn’t change our driving habits too much, but it would definitely have an effect on our next car purchase.


  4. concernedpatriot:

    Take a Zanax or something, you’re a little crazy.

  5. “The right to drive whatever you want however much you want” is a perfect embodiment of American sefishness regarding the rest of the world’s needs. You Americans already consume most of the world’s oil, do you want more and more and more? Does it ever end? Do we all exist to serve the United States? If so, could you at least let us vote in your presidential election so we don’t get another George Bush?

  6. It is kind of weird when I talk to people I know and they say in a matter of fact way that the higher gas prices are temporary and soon the prices will come down to less than $2 a gallon again. A lot of people in the U.S.A. believe this, and so for them it makes sense to buy another SUV. I think gasoline is going to keep going up and up. I don’t know what the price will be three years from now but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be less than what it is now. If more people believed this I think sales of small cars would be a lot better than what they are now, which is pretty good and going up.

  7. I currently live in France where new mid-sized cars get over 50mpg(using a new clean-burning diesel). If they can do this in Europe why can’t the US manage?
    My husband has a C4 (citroën) and we do mostly city driving and still average 52 mpg…
    Europeans are simply much more concerned about their consumption because their gas is even more expensive than ours (because of taxes mainly). I completely shocked a new car saleswoman here when I said that the onboard computer that gives your gas consumption didn’t interest me.

  8. I am also an ex-pat living in Italy for two years, and I have an Alfa Romeo diesel that gets in the high 40 MPG range (average), and I don’t drive slowly either.

    I know so many people back home that are hung up on the Toyota Prius, which is considered kind of a funny joke here in Italy. The diesels here get much better fuel economy, and have a lot more power.

  9. jim franzen, the auto enthusiast community here in the U.S. also considers the Prius a joke considering many of the Honda, Toyota, and Nissan econoboxes are getting almost the same MPG. The Prius is just another excuse for the middle-class shlubs to brag about how great they are and show their equally insecure friends that they are “doing good for the environment.” What a joke, haha.

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