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NEW YORK -- With Memorial Day as the unofficial start of the summer driving season, motorists were steamed as an increasing number of gas pumps in the nation read upwards of $4 a gallon, The New York Times reported.
The nationwide average for a gallon of gasoline was nearly $3.88, according to AAA, a number that is 65 cents higher than this time last year. Diesel hit $4.65 a gallon on Friday, up $1.73 a gallon in a year.
In March, Americans drove 11 billion miles less than in March 2007, a decline of 4.3 percent, marking the first time since 1979 that mileage dropped from one year to the next, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported last week. These statistics were supported by a recent New York Times poll that interviewed 70 people across the country who said lifestyle adjustments -- such as limiting trips to the grocery store -- will last beyond the summer.
While gasoline sales typically climb during Memorial Day weekend, MasterCard estimated sales dropped by approximately 7 percent. Overall, the U.S. Department of Energy expects gasoline sales to fall by 0.6 percent this year, the first drop since 1991, the Times reported.
Florian Bialas, a retiree who lives near Chicago, told The New York Times he sold his Pontiac Sunfire for $3,000 and plans to give up his license when it expires in September. "I can walk to most places where I need to go," he told the paper.
"The psychology has changed," Sara Johnson, an economist at Global Insight, told the paper. "People have recognized that prices are not going down and are adapting to higher energy costs. It's a capitulation."
While Americans cry foul, gasoline is cheaper in the states than in most European nations. In France, for example, a gallon of gasoline costs about $7.70 at today's exchange rates. Lee Schipper, a visiting scholar at the transportation center of the University of California, Berkeley, told The New York Times Americans pay less to drive a mile today than they did in 1980, once the impact of inflation and gains in fuel efficiency are taken into account.
"This is the wake-up call," Schipper told the paper. "We actually have a lot of choices, based on what car we drive, where we live, how much time we choose to drive, and where we choose to go. But you have built in a very strong car dependency. And when the price hits the fan, people have a hard time coping."