How High Is Too High for Gas Prices?

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How High Is Too High for Gas Prices?


WASHINGTON, D.C. – For many American drivers, $3.44 per gallon is the tipping point when it comes to high gas prices.

Half of adults in the United States consider prices at the pump to be "too high" when they reach that amount, according to a new consumer price index developed by AAA. Meanwhile, 62 percent of Americans are changing their driving habits or lifestyle in order to offset high prices.

"It was not long ago that motorists were shocked to pay more than $3 per gallon for gasoline, but now that is standard at stations nationwide," stated Robert L. Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA. "Today's average consumer feels a breaking point on high gas prices closer to $3.50 per gallon, and expensive prices have forced many motorists to change their driving habits."

The gas-price index tracks consumer attitudes by determining at what price the cost of gasoline becomes too high, said AAA. The open-ended survey revealed how attitudes are likely to change as prices reach certain milestones:

  • Forty-six percent believe gas is too high when the price reaches $3 per gallon;
  • Sixty-one percent believe gas is too high when the price reaches $3.50 per gallon; and
  • Ninety percent believe gas is too high when the price reaches $4 per gallon.

"It is possible there is a new normal in terms of consumer attitudes now that gas prices have remained above $3 per gallon for more than two years," Darbelnet stated. "Most people have resigned themselves to paying higher gas prices and are cutting back on driving, shopping and dining out to save money."

Ways drivers reported changing their habits and/or lifestyle in order to offset gas prices include:

  • 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

Forty-eight percent of younger drivers, aged 18 to 34, are more likely to offset gas prices by working closer to home compared to 35 percent of drivers aged 35 and up.

In addition, 25 percent of younger drivers are also more likely to use public transportation regularly compared to 10 percent of older drivers. This could suggest a generational shift in attitudes regarding driving, but AAA cautioned that it is too soon to say whether these attitudes will continue into the future.

AAA developed the price index by asking drivers at what price they consider the cost of gasoline to be too high, requesting the price per gallon to the nearest 10 cents, in order to determine the potential consumer breaking point for high gas prices.

The telephone survey was conducted March 28-30 among two national probability samples, landline-only and cell phone. Survey participants included 1,011 adults (503 men and 508 women) 18 years of age and older and living in the continental United States.