Fear of another significant terrorist attack and uncertainty about war in Iraq, as well as the continuing loss of oil to a strike in Venezuela and recent cold weather in much of the country, are driving gas prices higher across the United States, AAA said.
However, it said, "nothing fully justifies the dramatic increase in gasoline prices experienced across the United States in the last month."
Since mid-January, the price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline has increased 13.4 cents to $1.60 per gallon, according to AAA's daily Fuel Gauge Report.
Tuesday's nationwide average fuel price was the highest since June 2001 -- when the average price was $1.66 per gallon -- and is the highest February price on record, AAA said.
"AAA is advising motorists to shop aggressively for the best price on gasoline, look for ways to cut down on fuel consumption, and keep their vehicles properly maintained to increase fuel economy, as methods of cushioning family budgets," a news release said.
"AAA also urges gasoline wholesalers and retailers to show restraint in the pricing of their product, and [cautions] the industry not to take advantage of the nation's heightened terrorist alert status," it said.
After September 11, 2001, state authorities took aggressive legal action against gasoline companies that sought to profit from the attacks. AAA said it would support similar action now if that becomes necessary.