Why This Time Around, Drivers Aren’t Flipping Out About Rising Gas Prices

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When gas prices soared in 2008, protests erupted around the world, and automakers in Detroit had to beg the federal government to bail them out lest they go out of business. Gas prices are soaring again in 2012, yet the auto industry is booming, and drivers, while annoyed, are mostly taking rising fuel costs in stride. What’s changed?

Despite the rhetoric of some consumer groups and political candidates running for office, the recent rise in gas prices hasn’t exactly been met by outrage. The reaction’s been more like a “Sucks, but what’re you gonna do?” shrug.

Retail data indicate that consumers are shopping more lately—for cars and other goods—and surveys show that the majority of American households won’t change their lifestyle until gas tops $5 per gallon.

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In addition to the air of inevitability when it comes to rising gas prices, the Los Angeles Times points out that this isn’t the first time American drivers have been forced to deal with prices in the neighborhood of $4 a gallon, and that the second time around is always less of a harsh jolt. The recent price rise—an increase of roughly 15%—also isn’t nearly as steep as its counterpart in 2008, when gas prices skyrocketed 35% in six months. What’s more, thanks to inflation and rising costs for everyday expenses such as food, $4 gas now doesn’t feel quite as bad as $4 gas did in 2008.

This time around, we’re not only prepared mentally for pricier gas, but physically as well, in the form of cars with better gas mileage: The average new car sold gets over 23 mpg, compared to 20 mpg four years ago.

There are also signs that Americans have been driving less and less as each year passes. The Detroit Free Press reports that “virtual contact”—i.e., all the different technological ways people now use to stay in touch—is at least partially responsible for this trend. Others have also made the claim that rising use of the Internet is why fewer teenagers are bothering to get drivers’ licenses.

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Maybe that’s another reason why people aren’t that upset by rising gas prices: It’s not like you need a car to “hang out” with your friends anymore. That’s what Facebook, texting, and Twitter are for.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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