Mondays prices were the lowest of the year, surpassing analysts expectations, as Idahoans paid an average of $3.27 per gallon, down from $3.67 a month ago.
Nationwide, the average price finally fell below the $3.28 mark set on New Years Day. The national average of $3.25 on Monday was down from $3.42 the month before.
The relief comes just in time for what is expected to be the busiest Christmas travel season in six years. In the big picture, though, it probably just feels like a bit of a stocking stuffer. Thats because for the second straight year, Americans will spend an unmatched amount of money filling their tanks. The government estimates that gas averaged $3.63 a gallon this year, 10 cents above the record set a year ago.
The average driver will pay a little less than $2,700 for 744 gallons of gasoline this year, according to data from Oil Prices Information Service.
Drivers can only hope that forecasts for lower prices next year come true.
A combination of high oil prices and supply shortages caused by refinery and pipeline problems kept gas prices elevated for most of 2012 The national average hit a high of $3.94 in early April and was around $3.87 in September after Hurricane Isaac disrupted supplies from the Gulf Coast.
Prices in most areas have fallen since then as supplies got replenished and refiners switched to cheaper winter blends of fuel.
For the cheapest gas, the Midwest wins. Missouri dipped below the $3 mark, to $2.96, and Oklahoma posted a price of $3.02.
Not surprisingly, Californias gas is costliest in the West, at $3.56 per gallon. But residents are likely relieved to be spending an average of $3.59 just two months after a refinery fire and pipeline shutdown sent pump prices soaring to $5.
In the East, Connecticut and New York have the highest gas prices, $3.67 and $3.75, respectively.
Americans fuel bills this year ran up even as they used the least amount of gas in more than a decade. The slower U.S. economy and an increase in fuel efficiency helped cut consumption, which government data show peaked in 2007. Consumption is expected to be about 8.73 million barrels per day this year, the lowest level since 2001.
Forecasters say that gasoline should be cheaper in 2013, but events such as hurricanes or a conflict that disrupts oil supplies from the Middle East would make a big difference.