The average price American drivers pay for a gallon of regular gasoline rose above $2.00 on Thursday for the first time since autumn last year, and are likely to keep rising, the AAA (search) motor club said.

The average price at the pumps for regular gasoline across the U.S. rose to $2.003 a gallon from the $1.993 a gallon on Wednesday, about a nickel below the record $2.054 posted on May 26, 2004, according to AAA.

"These prices mean that the American consumer should be concerned, and prepared to pay much higher prices at the pump," said Geoff Sundstrom, a spokesman for the AAA.

Prices for mid-grade gasoline (search) averaged $2.126 a gallon while drivers using premium to fuel up their cars were paying $2.204 a gallon, according to the survey, which is based on daily credit card swipes at more than 60,000 stations around the country.

Recent price rises in gasoline have tracked soaring crude oil costs, as energy demand increased from western countries and the developing giants such as China and India. Crude oil costs account for about half the price of gasoline.

On Tuesday, the U.S. government projected that gasoline prices will hit a new record high this spring, reaching a national monthly average of $2.15 a gallon.

"We were intrigued by this forecast because it is an average and that means that prices could spike above $2.15 in certain markets," said Sundstrom.

During the busy 2005 driving season, which runs from April through September, gasoline will average $2.10 a gallon, up 20 cents from the same period last year, the Energy Information Administration (search) said in its monthly energy forecast.

While prices are near record levels in nominal terms, they remain well below the $3 peak hit in 1981 when adjusted for inflation.