Most Americans Are Driving Less to Offset Gas Prices

Prices at the pump are falling but are still nearly 40% higher than a year ago.

July 26, 2022

American Home with a Car Parked in the Driveway

ORLANDO, Fla.—Drivers are making significant changes to cope with record pump prices, with almost two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults indicating they have changed their driving habits or lifestyle since March, according to AAA. Twenty-three percent indicate they have made “major changes.”

Eighty-eight percent of those surveyed by AAA are driving less to offset high gas prices—the top change U.S. consumers have made. Other top ways they are counteracting high pump prices include combining errands (74%), reducing shopping or dining out (56%), delaying major purchases (30%), postponing vacations (29%) and saving less (24%).

In March 2022, AAA released gas survey data examining the pump prices Americans would view as too expensive. At that time, over half (59%) said they would change their driving habits or lifestyle if the cost of gas rose to $4 per gallon.

If gas were to reach $5.00 a gallon, which it did in June, three-quarters said they would need to adjust their lifestyle to offset the spike at the pump. At that time, among Americans who said they would make changes in response to higher gas prices, a majority (80%) said they would opt to drive less.

While many Americans are adapting their daily habits to make up for higher gas prices, it also affects their future travel plans. Many Americans have postponed taking a vacation this year. With gas prices remaining volatile for the foreseeable future, consumers will likely be paying higher prices on vacations than in previous years.

Rewarding Loyalty

A recent NACS survey found that high gas prices are taking their toll on sales at convenience stores, with 59% of retailers saying their customer traffic has decreased in stores over the past three months.

Convenience stores, which sell an estimated 80% of the fuel purchased in the U.S., rely on in-store sales, not fuel sales, to drive profits. But high gas prices are hurting customer traffic in stores and basket sizes. Nearly half of all retailers (49%) say that those customers coming inside the store are buying less compared to three months ago when gas prices were $1.50 a gallon lower.

Convenience retailers say they are looking to reduce expenses, chief among them credit card swipe fees, which average more than 10 cents per gallon, and pass along savings to price-conscious customers. More than 1 in 4 (29%) of retailers surveyed say they are offering cash discounts at the pump, and 31% are offering discounts for those who pay by app.

“Loyal customers want to be rewarded, and that’s our aim during this time of immense inflation,” said Dennis McCartney of Landhope Farms.

Falling Gas Prices

Gas prices continue to fall—the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline is $4.33, down from $4.90 a month but up over a $1 from $3.15 a year ago.

AAA reports that lackluster demand for gas and lower oil prices have led to lower prices at the pump. The steady decline is due to low domestic demand for gasoline and oil prices that remain in the mid-$90s per barrel. The price of gas has now fallen every day since hitting a record $5.01 on June 14.

“Consumers appear to be taking the pressure off their wallets by fueling up less,” said Andrew Gross, AAA spokesperson. “And there’s reason to be cautiously optimistic that pump prices will continue to fall, particularly if the global price for oil does not spike. But the overall situation remains very volatile.”

The fuels market is complex, and many consumers don’t comprehend the full story of how gas prices are set. It’s a common misconception that if the price of oil declines, gas prices should immediately follow suit. While fuel retailers know that this isn’t the case, oftentimes they are blamed for not dropping the price of gas quickly enough and are accused of making excessive profits off fuel.

NACS spokesman Jeff Lenard explains why gas prices don't drop quicker as the price of crude oil declines in a recent Convenience Corner blog post.