As the national average price for a gallon of gas reached $3.94 this week, drivers across the country scaled back on their travel plans or stayed home for Memorial Day. Last year’s Memorial Day gas price was $3.23, which raised the hackles of drivers at the time. But this year’s price spike—coupled with stagnant wages—had a greater impact on driving trends.
According to the consulting firm Deloitte & Touche, 23 percent of Americans scaled back on, or abandoned completely, their travel plans for Memorial Day weekend. Exact numbers aren’t yet available for opening weekend of driving season, but March’s stats, released by the Federal Highway Administration on Monday, show the greatest year-to-year decrease in driving since 1979.
AAA estimates that 31.7 million people traveled this Memorial Day, down from 32 million last year. It may not sound like a huge drop, but when you factor in the number of people who chose to visit attractions closer to home, Americans are likely to do a lot less driving this year. Is that really a bad thing?
For all the awareness that Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” raised about the issue of global warming, Americans have failed to significantly pare down their driving habits out of concern for the environment alone. But in the long run, higher gas prices will lead to two things: less driving and more efficient vehicles. Truck drivers and cash-strapped families are unlikely to take much comfort from that now, but someday maybe their grandkids will be thankful.