Good article in the NYTimes over the weekend on how consumers are adjusting to rising gas prices.  The bottom line: it looks like people are starting to make some lasting changes in their transportation habits—changes that will continue to trim consumption even if prices ease a bit.

Interviews with more than 70 people across the country suggested that the adjustments they were making, mental and otherwise, would last well beyond the summer. Americans have started trading their gas guzzlers for smaller cars, making fewer trips to the mall and, wherever possible, riding public transportation to work.

For years, it was not clear whether rising prices would ever cause Americans to use less gas. But a combination of record prices, the slowing economy and a tight credit market has beaten consumers down.

Gasoline demand has fallen sharply since the beginning of the year and is headed for the first annual drop in 17 years, according to government estimates.

The whole thing is worth a read—if only to help dispel the notion that high gas prices have no effect on consumer behavior.

But CNN has even bigger news:

The Department of Transportation said figures from March show the steepest decrease in driving ever recorded.

Compared with March a year earlier, Americans drove an estimated 4.3 percent less—that’s 11 billion fewer miles, the DOT’s Federal Highway Administration said Monday, calling it “the sharpest yearly drop for any month in FHWA history.” Records have been kept since 1942.

It’s too soon to crow, obviously; the decrease could be temporary, or even illusory if the numbers are revised later.  But it does agree with my recent experience on the highway:  for the last month or so, rush hour traffic has been as clear as I can remember it.

Anyone else have the same experience?

Update:  Holy cow:  MasterCard says that gasoline sales were down more than 5 percent last week!