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AAA Analyzes Motorists’ Breaking Point On Gas Prices

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 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.

“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,” said Robert 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.

AAA’s gas-price index tracks consumer attitudes by determining at what price the cost of gasoline becomes too high. The group says results from its open-ended survey demonstrate how attitudes can be expected to change as prices rise above certain 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; and
• 90 percent believe gas is too high when the price reaches $4.00 per gallon.

Additionally, the survey demonstrates that consumers are 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

The research indicates that consumers ages 18-34 are more likely to offset recent gas prices by working closer to home or by using public transportation more regularly than adults ages 35 and up (48 percent vs. 35 percent and 25 percent vs. 10 percent, respectively). AAA says 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.

“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 said. “Most people have resigned themselves to paying higher gas prices and are cutting back on driving, shopping and dining out to save money.”

The AAA report presents the findings from 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 March 28-30. The total included 661 interviews from the landline sample and 350 interviews from the cell phone sample. AAA says its study has a 95-percent margin of error of ±3.8 percent.

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