As millions of Americans prepare to hit the road for Fourth of July weekend, pump prices are the highest they've been since 2008, AAA said in its monthly gas price report.
The travel service organization said it doubts that the national average of $3.67 for regular unleaded — 19 cents higher than a year ago — will deter holiday travel, predicting that nearly 35 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more by car over the long weekend. That would be the highest level of Independence Day car travel since 2007.
The July 4 national average for a gallon of regular unleaded was $3.48 last year, $3.34 in 2012, $3.57 in 2011 and — brace yourselves — just $2.74 in 2010 and $2.62 in 2009. In comparison, motorists were digging much deeper on July 4, 2008, paying an average of $4.10 for regular unleaded.
Over the previous three years, pump prices declined an average of 21 cents a gallon during June as refineries resumed full production following annual spring maintenance and a switch to summer gas blends. This year, prices are unchanged from a month ago. AAA cited the continued unrest in Iraq that threatens oil production there, but expects gas prices to remain "relatively flat in the near future and could even decline a few cents as the situation stabilizes."
Last year, gas averaged $3.58 during July, but AAA expects prices this year to range from $3.60 to $3.70, with the caveat that they could go higher if there is a major hurricane or violence escalates in Iraq. July is the second busiest month for car travel and August is the busiest, and gas prices typically rise because of higher demand.
Figures as of Wednesday show that motorists in many states are paying considerably more for gas this year. For example, the average is 22 cents higher than a year ago in New York, Oregon, Washington and Missouri; 26 cents higher in Indiana; 32 cents higher in Ohio; and 40 cents higher in Michigan.
Gas is cheaper than a year ago in only a couple of states, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report, including Idaho (5 cents less) and Utah (7 cents less). Though the national average for regular unleaded has hovered around $3.67 for more than a month, prices in some states have had major swings. In Indiana, the average fell 7 cents the past week to $3.65 and has dropped 25 cents over the past month. Ohio saw bigger swings, with prices falling 8 cents the past week to $3.60 and 32 cents the past month.
Hawaii had the nation's most expensive gas as of Wednesday, a statewide average of $4.34, followed by Alaska at $4.23, and California, $4.14.
In Washington, prices inched up another penny the past week to $4.01, making it the fourth state with $4 gas. Oregon and Connecticut were close behind at $3.98.South Carolina had the cheapest gas at $3.39 for regular unleaded, followed by Alabama at $3.42; Mississippi, $3.44; Tennessee, $3.46; and Arkansas, $3.47. The national average for diesel fuel was $3.90 on Wednesday, unchanged from a week ago, 2 cents lower than a month ago and 8 cents higher than a year ago.