Gas Prices Impact Driving Habits Less

Fewer Americans are reducing how much they drive because of gas prices, which average $3.57 for a gallon of regular unleaded, 7 cents less than a year ago, AAA said Thursday.

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In a telephone survey conducted by AAA, 53 percent of motorists said they are changing their driving habits or lifestyle to offset higher gas prices. A year ago, when pump prices averaged $3.64, 68 percent said they were reducing the amount of driving they do.

"Many people seem to be feeling less pressure to make significant changes in their lives on account of high gas prices," Bob Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA, said in a release. "Less expensive gasoline may encourage people to drive more and worry less about the financial burden of filling up their tanks."

AAA said gas prices are lower than at the same time in previous years because of higher production and supplies. The travel services organization predicted prices may peak this spring at less than $3.65 per gallon. Regular unleaded peaked at $3.79 last year, $3.94 in 2012 and $3.98 in 2011.

Though prices may not go as high as they did last year, they have continued to rise. The national average for regular unleaded crept up 3 cents per gallon in the past week, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report. The $3.57 average pump price is 11 cents higher than a month ago and 30 cents higher than in early February. Motorists in some states saw significant price increases over the last week. Prices jumped by 7 cents in Kentucky to $3.59, in Alabama and Tennessee to $3.39, and in Louisiana to $3.36. The average price in South Carolina and Mississippi increased 6 cents to $3.32 and $3.35, respectively, though both states still ranked among those with the cheapest gas.

Montana had the lowest statewide average at $3.28. The highest was Hawaii at $4.26, a 4-cent increase from a week ago. California's average price gained 2 cents to $4.01. Alaska, $3.82; Connecticut and New York, $3.78; and Illinois, $3.76 also ranked among states with the highest prices. In the District of Columbia, prices increased by 5 cents to $3.75.

Price fluctuations continued to vary widely by location. Michigan's average, for example, rose 5 cents to $3.72, but in neighboring Ohio they fell by 4 cents to $3.58. In the Memphis area, where unexpected refinery maintenance disrupted the supply of gas, prices rose 5 cents to $3.37, following a 6-cent increase the previous week.

Diesel fuel fell by a penny to $3.97 the past week and is 4 cents cheaper than a month ago and on the same date a year ago. photo by Evan Sears

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Contributor Rick Popely has covered the auto industry for decades and hosts a weekly online radio show on .  Email Rick