When it comes to high gas prices, individuals can do something to help reduce the pain at the pump.
The choices we make as consumers have a huge effect on the retail price of gasoline, experts say. But to fundamentally change the current situation, millions of drivers must change their habits to burn less fuel.
"Transportation accounts for almost 70 percent of all petroleum used in the U.S., and private [passenger] vehicle travel accounts for 82 percent of all vehicle miles of travel," according to the latest National Household Travel Survey (June 2006).
That means American drivers are responsible for burning about 14 percent of the daily global supply of oil in their tanks or about 11.4 million barrels of crude of the 80 million produced worldwide.
And during the summer, our appetite for fuel increases that much more. "Good weather and vacations cause U.S. summer gasoline demand to average about 5 percent higher than during the rest of the year. If crude oil prices remain unchanged, gasoline prices would typically increase by 10 to 20 cents from January to the summer," according to the Energy Department's primer on gasoline.
This year, when crude prices were in the mid $60 range and driver demand for gasoline maintained record levels, the retail price of gas increased by $0.87 a gallon.
So is there a solution? Oil and economics experts say the solution is actually easy, because the gasoline and crude oil markets act in a very simple way. Only two major factors determine the retail price of gas: supply and demand.
When consumers make choices to be more fuel efficient and reduce daily demand for gasoline, prices should come down.
Experts say a little thought and some action can go a long way, with things like car pooling and combining trips, which offer substantial savings of gas if done consistently over time.
Here are some of their tips:
Sharing a ride. Every day, Americans commute about 166 million miles. If the average family with two workers shared a ride to work, the Department of Transportation estimates that the country would save more than 3 million gallons of gas a day.
Walking or biking. Short trips are very common -- trips of a half mile or less account for 25 million miles traveled each day in the United States. If we walked or biked these trips, the country would consume about 1.2 million fewer gallons of gas each day, according to the Transportation Department.
Linking trips. A little effort, though, goes a long way, especially when it comes to "trip combining." If you link a shopping or errand stop into your commute instead of going home and then out again, you can typically save more than $1 in fuel costs, the experts at Transportation say.
Taking transit. Less than 10 percent of workers who live and work near mass transportation actually avail themselves of the bus or train. Mass transit commuters realize healthy savings, according to government officials. Transit users save on average $32 a week compared with the average car commuter. That's more than $1,600 a year.
Choosing the most fuel-efficient vehicle. We are a culture that loves its cars; most households in the country have more than one set of wheels. Making a fuel-smart choice on the car lot can save lots of gas. According to the Energy Department, drivers could save hundreds of dollars a year by driving a car instead of an SUV ($492 per year), pickup truck ($417 per year), or van ($193 per year).
Making sure your car is in good working order. Basic things like taking extra junk out of your trunk (up to 6 cents a gallon savings), replacing air filters (up to 32 cents per gallon) and keeping your tires properly inflated (up to 10 cents a gallon) help extend the time between fill-ups.