Fears are growing that an increasing number of motorists will be priced off the road if fuel prices continue their relentless rise.
Petrol and diesel now cost more in the UK than ever before — with a further 3p VAT rise planned in August prompting panic among drivers.
New figures from March's AA Fuel Price Report reveal that Northern Ireland consumers are forking out an average 139.2p a litre for unleaded and 145.9p for diesel.
That’s more expensive than anywhere else in the UK, where around 68% of the pump price is actually attributable to duty and VAT.
Before tax, the UK has one of the cheapest fuels in Europe but, once it is added, local diesel prices are the highest in the EU, while local petrol is among the dearest.
Adrian Johnston, from Dungannon, who travels to and from Belfast every day, said the exorbitant cost of fuel was “frightening”.
“I’m now looking for a flat near work because my petrol bill has gone up by about £10 a month and I can no longer afford to drive so far,” he said.
There was some good news on Thursday though, after Asda announced it was launching a fuel comparison site for Northern Ireland motorists.
It has vowed to publish the price it charges for both unleaded and diesel to allow drivers to check and compare prices within a three-mile radius of local forecourts.
The supermarket giant said the new website — www.asda.com/petrol — will expose the “huge fuel price discrepancies between neighbouring towns” across the country.
UK average petrol and diesel prices are 138.5p per litre and 145.45p respectively — both all-time highs — and saw an increase from last month of 3.5p for unleaded and 2.65p for diesel.
The hike means it now costs £1.75 more to refuel a typical petrol tank and it puts an extra £2.12 on diesel bills for 80-litre commercial vans.
It also means that the monthly cost of fuel for a family with two petrol cars has increased by £13.27 since the start of this year, according to the AA.
Confirmation of a fuel duty increase in next week’s Budget will condemn poorer drivers in rural areas to suffer disproportionately when the tax rise comes into force on August 1.
This year’s 6.25p-a-litre rise in petrol costs is already adding £51.64 to a rural driver’s annual fuel bill.
Totalling £81.55, this compares with an increase of almost £50 for the average UK driver.
AA president Edmund King has called for the Government to scrap the imminent duty increase.
“If not, they will see more people claiming benefits as rising travel costs discourage work and will get less tax as motoring-dependent businesses go bust.”
Stephen McCausland, who owns taxi firm Value Cabs, said: “Drivers now have to work more hours to make the same income.”