Fuel Price Amnesia
By Kevin Miller
I’m a smart guy, but I can’t remember everything. The past week presented two prime examples of that fact. The first was that upon the birth of our second daughter, I didn’t remember just how little sleep I’d be getting with a newborn in the house. When she arrived on Monday morning, it quickly became evident that I will spend the next several months being severely sleep-deprived. How could I have forgotten that?
The second example that I can’t remember everything has to do with gas prices. When I filled my Volvo with premium unleaded for $2.01 earlier this week, I was shocked. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d paid so little for premium fuel. And I couldn’t even remember how much I had recently been paying. Was it really over $4.00/gallon just a few months ago? Or was it merely approaching $4.00?
A little research shows that yes, as recently as September, gas prices were at their highest, and in Washington State I paid just over $4.50/gallon for premium unleaded. So now, just three months later, I’m filling up for less than half of the price I had been paying. Digging a little deeper, I found that the last time fuel prices were this low was briefly in the first quarter of 2005; it was the first half of 2004 when they were regularly that low.
With fuel prices like I’m seeing this week, who needs to conserve? I’ve been driving my all-wheel drive wagon instead of my wife’s more efficient sedan, I’ve been making extra trips, and yes, I’ve even been contemplating taking advantage of the generous dowries incentives on a bigger, thirstier car for my growing family. Of course, I do remember that my wife is going to be staying home with the new baby instead of working outside of the home, so perhaps now isn’t the time to take on a new car payment. But I digress.
I’m an auto writer- I pay attention to things like cars, fuel consumption, and gas prices. How did I get so out of touch with fuel prices? How could my memory be so short that I don’t remember the “pain at the pump” from just three months ago? And with that being the case, how many other motorists have forgotten as well? Are the few remaining new vehicle buyers once again choosing inefficient, larger-than-needed vehicles and taking wasteful extra trips because they don’t have to worry about the extra expense? It is certainly tempting to do so with fuel prices suddenly so low (and incentives on large vehicles so high).
While the fact that fuel prices are down is very good for our nation’s household budgets, it isn’t necessarily good for our goal of reducing foreign energy dependence. When consumers see gas prices so low, they aren’t financially compelled to use less energy. So energy is used inattentively, even carelessly. It’s not good.
Personally, I think that gas prices a bit higher than they are now are healthier for our nation as a whole. Higher fuel prices keep people thinking about (and paying attention to) their own energy use. Keeping consumption prices on consumers’ minds may cause them to make more efficient vehicle choices the next time they buy a car, which in turn should cause automakers to make efficient vehicles which are more appealing. And it will keep politicians’ attention focused on reducing foreign oil dependence, which is something far too important even for somebody like me to forget.
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