Californians slam brakes on gas use

An economic meltdown may not be the preferred way to scale back California's dependence on foreign oil, but it seems to be doing the trick.

Gas consumption in California continues to fall, even with gas prices far lower than the record highs set last summer, new figures from the California State Board of Equalization show. Some economists credit the poor economy for the trend.

Unemployed people don't drive to work. Car sales are down. And suburban growth is sputtering. All of which promotes lower fuel usage.

"The impact of drops in income on gasoline consumption are actually quite large," said Chris Knittel, an economics professor at UC Davis.

Another economist, Severin Borenstein, director of the Energy Institute at UC Berkeley, said the economy may have little to do with the decline in consumption; rather, he said there is a lag between price drops and increased usage.

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