March 20 (UPI) -- With gas prices about 10 percent higher than they were at this point last year, the situation may be near the point of U.S. economic strain, analysis found.
Motor club AAA posts a national average retail price of $2.56 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. That's almost 4 cents higher than last week and 27 cents more than this date last year.
A federal estimate from last week showed gasoline demand across the U.S. economy is at a point not usually seen until summer months, when more vacationers hit the road. The United States is exporting more of its own oil, meanwhile, and the market is getting tighter. As a result, consumers are seeing prices climb at the pump.
Patrick DeHaan, a senior analyst at GasBuddy, said gasoline prices are at their highest level in more than a month and will only move higher into the summer months.
"Overall, gas prices this spring will come in some 10-25 percent higher than a year ago, removing billions of dollars from other areas of the economy that will instead be funneled to the pump," he said in a statement.
Federal data show the consumer price index, a metric gauging how much consumers pay for everything from toothpaste to bottled water, increased 2.2 percent for the 12 months ending in February. For gasoline, that same metric is up 12.6 percent.
By region, the West Coast is the most expensive market in the country, with California and Washington holding above the $3 per gallon mark. Gasoline inventories in the region are on the decline just ahead of a major driving season.
The Great Lakes region, meanwhile, is the most volatile in the country and Illinois topped the list with a 3 percent spike in gasoline prices. Inventory levels there are relatively on par with what they were last year.
"Additionally, winter-spec fuels are likely being moved out of the system to make room for EPA-mandated summer blends that will soon be required," DeHaan added. "All five regions of the country saw gasoline inventories declining for this reason."