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Directions in Highway Safety, Summer 2008 Cover Page Download Newsletter pdf
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Late Winter 2008 | Vol. 10 | No. 4

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Study Reveals Motorists' Reactions to High Gas Prices

A new study from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has examined consumers' responses to the upward trend in gasoline prices that began in 2003. The study revealed that while consumers responded in a variety of ways to the higher prices, the overall effect was small. If prices remain high, it is likely that motorists will continue to adjust their driving habits and vehicle choices. These trends are expected to have various safety impacts.

Gas Pump in Car

Freeway motorists have adjusted to higher prices by making fewer trips and by driving more slowly. CBO analyzed data collected at a dozen metropolitan highway locations in California, along with data on gas prices in the state to identify changes in driving patterns. On weekdays in the study period, for every additional 50 cents in the price of gas, the number of freeway trips declined by about 0.7 percent in areas where rail transit is a nearby option (transit ridership increased by a commensurate amount). Median speeds on uncongested freeways declined by about threequarters of a mile per hour for every 50 cents the price of gas has increased since 2003.

The study also indicated rising gas prices are also having an impact on the vehicle mix. In 2004, the market share of light trucks began to decline relative to that of cars. That year, light trucks constituted about 55 percent of the passenger vehicle market. By 2006, that proportion had slipped below 52 percent. The decline occurred despite slight increases in financial incentives from the industry to entice consumers into buying the trucks.

To download the publication visit and search for "Effects of Gasoline Prices on Driving Behavior and Vehicle Markets."