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Americans want to change their lifestyle due to gas prices, but can they?

AAA revealed some new survey data on how Americans are reacting to rising gas prices, and it shows that we’ve possibly crossed a threshold.

Over half (59%) said they would make changes to their driving habits or lifestyle if the cost of gas rose to $4 per gallon. If gas were to reach $5.00, which it has in the Western part of the country, three-quarters said they would need to adjust their lifestyle to offset the spike at the pump.

Read the full AAA statement here.

AAA’s analysis of how we can save our personal budgets is lukewarm, though. They cite that people will likely carpool and combine trips and errands. They also offer some feeble advice, such as “keep your vehicle in top shape” and “map your route.” Thanks, I guess?

Common sense tells us there’s a physical limit to how much we can optimize our routes and our engine’s performance. More importantly, those suggestions are still car-dependent. They keep us tethered to gas prices in one form or another.

When someone needs to fix their dependency on junk-food, they can’t win by giving up only green M&Ms. They need to radically change their entire diet. Likewise, we can’t just cut a few of our car trips and expect that to save us from transportation costs. Americans need to look beyond car dependency.

So how many of those survey respondents will start biking and walking instead of driving? The reality is, most of us can’t. As I’ve written before, our car culture offers us a false sense of freedom. Opting-out of driving is a Hobson’s choice for most Americans. If you decide you don’t want to buy gas, don’t want a government-issued license, and don’t want tens of thousands of dollars of personal debt just so you can go to work in the morning, then too bad. Our society disproportionately subsidizes cars at the expense of every other mobility option.

When the car subsidization ends, or at least becomes less effective, then suddenly everyone reconsiders how much they love driving. The best thing we can do now to fortify ourselves against events like rising gas prices is to make diverse mobility options viable. We need to get serious about investing biking, walking, and transit infrastructure.