The average retail price for a gallon of regular gasoline in the United States has hit a record $1.80, the U.S. motorists group AAA said over the weekend.
With six weeks to go until the start of the peak U.S. summer driving season and gasoline futures trading at all-time highs this week, the government has warned that the nation's 200 million drivers will soon be paying even more.
The AAA said the national average for self-serve regular rose to $1.803 per gallon, which is about 22 cents higher than they were this time last year.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration has said the highest prices this year are likely to be seen later in April or in May. The EIA said that in addition, the U.S. gasoline supply system remains susceptible to "severe" sudden price spikes if refineries or pipeline have problems this summer.
Although most of the nation's refineries have completed their springtime retooling to maximize gasoline production, this week the government said gasoline stocks are about 2.5 percent lower than the five-year average for early spring.
Near record-high crude oil prices are expected to remain strong after the OPEC oil cartel pledged last month to cut production to keep supply down.
Crude oil futures prices have stayed high because of concerns that tensions and unrest in Middle East producer nations, particularly Iraq and Saudi Arabia, may threaten oil security.
The United States told some of its diplomats and their families to leave Saudi Arabia this week because of an increased chance of violence there.
On Friday, U.S. crude oil futures were $37.69 a barrel, which is about $8.50, or about 30 percent, higher than a year ago.
Energy analysts say new seasonal clean-air fuel regulations could make it more difficult for domestic and foreign refiners to meet the hefty summer gasoline demand.
The United States consumes about a fourth of the global crude oil supply.
High energy prices, which rose 1.9 percent in March, are a major culprit behind a surprising jump in consumer prices, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
The Labor Department's consumer price index, the most widely used gauge of U.S. inflation, rose 0.5 percent in March, outstripping Wall Street's forecast of a 0.3 percent gain.
While an all-time high in nominal terms, the current price of gasoline is still significantly lower than the inflation-adjusted peak of $3 a gallon set in 1981, and well below the prices seen regularly in European countries.
A growing number of Americans have shown their displeasure over high gasoline prices by "pumping without paying," meaning they fill up their gas tanks at self-service stations and then speed away without paying the attendant in the office, according to the Petroleum Marketers Association of America.
The AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association, bases its price average on its survey which covers about 60,000 gasoline stations nationwide.