Americans enjoy cheapest gas prices in 12 years

Every licensed driver in the country saved $45 in the first quarter of 2016, says AAA.

Who says the American love affair with cars is dead? Gasoline is cheap, and Americans are driving more miles than ever.

New data shows that motorists in the United States paid their cheapest quarterly gas prices in 12 years in the first three months of 2016. Collectively, Americans trimmed about $10 billion from their gas bill from the previous year, a savings of about $45 per licensed driver.

The national average price of gas was $1.86 per gallon during the first quarter, according to AAA, making it the cheapest quarter for gasoline since the first quarter of 2004. The organization's forecasters say gas may rise by approximately 25 cents per gallon by Memorial Day, but that gas prices will remain low compared to recent years. Fifty-nine percent of gas stations report still selling gas for less than $2 per gallon.

Cheap gas is resulting in substantial savings. As prices tumbled last year, Americans saved $565 per licensed driver over 2014, according to AAA. Compared to the most expensive quarter on record in 2012, when gas prices averaged $3.58 per gallon, Americans are currently saving about $240 per quarter.

Low prices are fueling a historic rise in driving. Americans drove 3.06 trillion miles in 2015, according to the Federal Highway Administration, the most ever recorded. Preliminary numbers indicate that trend continued at the start of this year, with motorists logging 240.7 billion miles in January. It's the most ever recorded in the month.

Gas prices have increased 35 of the past 37 days, so drivers are paying anywhere from $4 to $9 more to fill up their cars compared to mid-February. AAA says the increase has come amid increasing demand, refinery maintenance and a switch to the summer blend of gasoline.

Motorists in Missouri are enjoying the cheapest prices in the nation, at an average of $1.83 per gallon, while Californians are paying the most expensive prices at $2.79 per gallon.

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