Have you noticed you're not maxing out your credit card at the gas pump these days? It could be the $1.20 you're saving on every gallon. On average, that's how much the price of gas has dropped since it hit more than $4 per gallon in July. Do lower gas prices mean Americans will start driving more?
At this Washington, D.C., gas station, lower fuel prices have just started to register with customers like Sharon Shephard. She always puts $10 worth of gas in her white and slightly rusty Ford Explorer.
"I honestly didn't pay attention to the price," Shepard says. "I'm just used to coming and getting gas, period." She's surprised by the price drop at the station. "It's low, very low. I think the last time I looked, it was $3.60-something and $3.09 — that's good."
So far this year, Americans have cut their driving by tens of billions of miles, inspired largely by the big hole gas prices were burning in their wallets. That trend actually accelerated in the month of August even as gas prices started to come down. Melvin Lee says he changed a lot over the summer when gas prices were at their peak.
"I did more walking, did more public transportation," he says. "You have to do what you've got to do." But Lee doesn't think he'll drive more now that gas is cheaper. "It ain't just the gas. It's the economy itself. You have to save more and just use your money more wisely these days."
Transportation experts say it's people like Lee who will continue to hold down the number of vehicle miles traveled. They say a down economy will likely offset the increase in driving that would normally happen when gas prices go down. Over the last three weeks, demand for gasoline has risen slightly according to government data, but it's still down sharply from what it was a year ago.
Eugene Griffin recently traded in his old, gas-guzzling Oldsmobile for a more efficient Kia Sorrento, even though he saw gas prices were coming down.
"I've been driving the Kia now for about a week, and all I've burned out is half a tank," Griffin boasts. He feels pretty good about his decision despite current low prices, "because I don't know when these gas prices are going to shoot back up."
And, Griffin says, he's got plenty of other bills to pay. "You just can't burn gas because the prices are low now," he says, "I've got to economize."
Darren O'Neill drives a Honda Ridgeline. "It's a truck, yeah. But it's a smaller engine than a big truck," he says. When gas prices were high, however, O'Neill admits that he did work from home more.
He's definitely driving less now, he says. O'Neill was recently laid off, so now he's doing consulting work — from home.