Two studies released earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Transportation reveal another pattern in frugality which started when gas prices rose dramatically: people are driving less and opting for public transporation.  The first, released  in early December showed an increase of 2.8 million riders of mass transit, a 6.5% increase over the same period in 2007.  This covered the 3rd quarter, where gas prices reached their highest point (in mid-July, gas reached an average price of $4.117 according to AAA) before falling through the floor throughout August and September.

Despite gas prices dropping since then to their lowest point in 5 years (the Sunoco station near me is at $1.659 today for regular unleaded), there are still less people driving.  According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Americans drove 100 billion fewer miles from November 2007 to October 2008 than the same period the prior year.  A recent Gallup poll backs up this statistic:

  • Nearly two in three Americans (64%) report adjusting their driving habits in significant ways in response to surging gas prices earlier this year, but only 12% have reverted to their old habits as prices at the pump have plunged
  • 52% of Americans say they have not gone back to their old driving habits
  • 61% of Americans aged 18 to 34 and 62% of Americans aged 55 and older say they changed their driving habits in significant ways; however, Americans aged 35 to 54 are slightly more likely, at 67%, to say they have changed their driving habits

As a result, some have suggested that this will cause deficits in funds allocated for roads.  Road maintenance won't be necessary as often if the roads aren't traveled on as much, though, so I'm not so sure about this.  It would be real nice not seeing as many orange barrels and large lit up arrows during the summer though!

A couple of bright spots (aside from the lower gas prices) are that this ultimately is better for the environment.  In addition, there have been 10% fewer fatalities as a result of auto accidents in 2008.

From what I'm seeing, people are making fewer trips and grouping their trips (go to the mall, grocery store, etc. on one trip).  For me and many others though, staying home is the real gas saver.  Unless I'm going to work, I'm pretty much a homebody.  I had to stop at the mall last Saturday to pick up a late Christmas gift and the mall was empty, despite many after Christmas bargains.  I've also noticed in my driving that I've been sitting in less traffic jams.  Has the drop in gas prices changed your driving habits?