The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the United States this year hasn't reached the highs seen in 2008, when it hit an all-time record of $4.114. The 2012 average hasn't even climbed as high as it was last year, when it reached $3.965, according to the Energy Department.
But fuel prices have been so consistently high in 2012 that American motorists are on pace to spend more on gasoline this year — $483 billion, or $1.32 billion a day — than they ever have before, according to the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey.
That would break the old record for the amount of money spent by Americans on gasoline, set last year, by about $12 billion. That's despite the fact that the U.S. average topped out this year at $3.941 a gallon back in April.
Analysts say the most remarkable thing is that high gasoline prices didn't have the chilling effect on consumer spending that they did four years ago.
"Americans seem to have accepted the news on high fuel prices with aplomb," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for OPIS.
Gasoline prices this year have been driven, in part, by high oil prices. They have also been affected by consistently high exports of U.S.-produced diesel and gasoline to customers overseas.
A third factor involved periodic regional spikes that helped keep the national average high.
The first of those spikes occurred in the Midwest, where petroleum pipeline ruptures and refinery outages kicked prices sharply higher.
The second occurred in October in California, where prices hit a state record of $4.671 a gallon, sparking several calls for federal and state investigations of refinery practices.
More recently, damage from Hurricane Sandy along the East Coast shut down several refineries and led to temporary fuel rationing in New York and New Jersey.
These impacts canceled out the fact that U.S. demand for motor fuel, running at about 8.7 million barrels a day so far this year, is at its lowest level since 2001, Kloza said.
The U.S. Energy Department said earlier this year that the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was running about $3.64 in 2012, up from last year's record average of $3.53.