7 Reasons Why Higher Gas Prices Haven't Reduced Traffic This Summer

Gas prices are off the charts, but drivers will still find themselves behind the wheel all summer long.
Updated April 3, 2023
Fact checked
travel by car

We receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

It’s tempting to assume that a silver lining to the astronomical cost of gasoline is that higher prices have helped to reduce traffic this summer. Unfortunately, that's not what's happening.

As drivers continue to look for ways to beat the pain at the pump, Americans are likely to continue to log as many miles as ever.

From daily activities and routines to summer trips and vacations, there are some logical reasons we’ll continue be in our cars all summer long (and beyond.)

Gas is inelastic

Michael O'Keene/Adobe pouring money into gas tank

Elasticity is an economic concept that means that demand for a good or service can shrink and grow depending on the price. If something is elastic, it means that people will buy more when that thing is cheap and buy less when it’s expensive.

However, if something is inelastic, it means that people use a consistent amount no matter what it costs. They cannot reduce consumption even if the item becomes expensive.

Gas has traditionally been inelastic since most people don’t do a lot of optional driving. That means they cannot reduce their driving even when gas is expensive. Most people have a lower limit of driving they must do to function in daily life, and they can’t do less than that.

Public transportation is inadequate

Bonsales/Adobe empty glass bus stop with yellow bench near road in city

Many American communities don’t have adequate public transportation. According to the American Public Transportation Association, 45% of Americans don’t even have access to any public transportation.

These people have to drive to work, day camps, daycare for kids, the grocery store — even cookouts and softball games. People have reduced the amount they drive as a way to avoid the financial stress of high gas prices. But if they want to live a normal life during the summer, they have to drive to the places they need and want to be.

Public transportation is not back to scale

littleny/Adobe Vintage toned image of New York City subway car

In communities that do have public transportation, it may not be running at full capacity. Many of these systems have been scaled back or reduced during the pandemic because of COVID-19 safety precautions, public transportation workers sick with COVID-19, and a lack of demand as workers work from home.

While some of these public transportation systems are back up and running, few are back up to their previous capacity. Car commutes make more sense now than they may have in 2019. That means that even with more people working from home, traffic might not be as reduced as you would expect.

Employers are experimenting with schedules

Kateryna/Adobe online video conference

Employers are confused about how to reconcile their investments in real estate and office locations with the new reality that employees would largely rather work from home and not have to commute anymore.

From the moment pandemic precautions were lifted, employers began to experiment with policies requiring employees to be back in an office location at least one or two days a week. The results of these hybrid work policies mean more employees are driving to work again, at least occasionally.

Pro tip: If you use your car primarily to commute to work, check out these tips for saving money on car insurance

We’re sick of being inside

Viacheslav Yakobchuk/Adobe Sad cheerless woman being covered with plaid

People have been careful about taking COVID-19 precautions for two long years. That means we haven’t seen family and friends who live far away, and we have missed out on vacations and sending our kids to sleepaway camps.

In short, we haven’t been able to do many of the normal things that keep us feeling connected.

Many of us have been saving for a summer vacation this year. Travelers are aching to get back to taking trips, and parents are desperate to give their kids something that feels normal and healthy. If they can afford the gas to drive and see their families or to take a real vacation, they’re going to do so.

Air travel is utter chaos

Rawpixel.com/Adobe Air travel in the new normal

Recently, thousands of airline flights have been delayed or canceled, and airline ticket prices are climbing steadily. For the average traveler, this means that they’re paying more without even being sure they’ll arrive at their destination.

Some people have decided that air travel is not the way to take an affordable summer trip and prefer to drive. The odds of saving money can be high, especially for two or more people on the same trip, once gas prices and time and effort are factored in.

Pro tip: If you have to get on a plane this summer, you can rack up points and rewards for future trips by using one of the best airline credit cards.

We’re focused on gas consumption, not on driving less

Aaron Kohr/Adobe major traffic jam

Americans like to have our cake and to eat it too. So, even environmentally conscious drivers are not inclined to drive less.

Instead of giving up cars, these drivers may turn to electric and hybrid vehicles. While this is a win for the environment overall, for drivers in the short term — and for the economy over the longer term — we’ll still have the same number of cars on the road, they’ll just be more fuel-efficient.

We’ll save the world, but we’ll still sit in traffic.

Bottom line

Ladanifer/Adobe Young man refueling his vehicle while looking worried at the high gas prices

While in theory, it might make sense that high gas prices would keep people at home and off the road, the reality is that we all have to keep living our daily lives. And after years of being locked inside, we’re not willing to delay vacations anymore, either.

The high cost of gas is unlikely to keep many of us off the roads this summer. The best you can do is reduce the amount you drive and use one of the top credit cards for saving on gas the next time you fill up.

Rocket Money Benefits

  • Helps to find and cancel subscriptions
  • Slash your monthly phone, cable, and internet bills
  • Save an average of up to $720 a year

Author Details

Elizabeth Rollins Elizabeth Rollins has degrees in literature and business, and she's combined these loves into a career in writing about personal finance. Her special areas of interest are debt, value, budgeting, education, and retirement.

Want to learn how to make an extra $200?

Get proven ways to earn extra cash from your phone, computer, & more with Extra.

You will receive emails from FinanceBuzz.com. Unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy

  • Vetted side hustles
  • Exclusive offers to save money daily
  • Expert tips to help manage and escape debt