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Gas prices too high? Try Europe.

$7 a gallon? That's what drivers in Amsterdam pay. But Europeans have long adapted to high prices.

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When Guy Colombier pulls his economy car up to a Paris pump, he allows himself just 15 Euros ($18) worth of gas - barely enough for three gallons. Since prices started rising rapidly earlier this year, says Mr. Colombier, a printing press worker, "I drive a lot more slowly ... and I'm looking for a place to live closer to where I work."

Colombier's pain is shared by drivers all over Europe, where fuel prices are the highest in the world: a gallon of gas in Amsterdam now costs $7.13, compared with just $2.61 in America. The contrast in prices and environmental policies - and the dramatically different behaviors they inspire - signals a widening transatlantic energy gap. And it raises the question: Does Europe offer America a glimpse of its future?

Indeed, while Europeans have learned to cope with expensive fuel (mostly due to taxes), there's scant evidence yet that US drivers are adopting their conservation tactics.

"Societies adjust over decades to higher fuel prices," says Jos Dings, head of Transport and Energy, a coalition of European environmental NGOs. "They find many mechanisms."

Chief among them, say experts, is the habit of driving smaller and more fuel-efficient cars. While the average light duty vehicle on US highways gets 21.6 miles per gallon (m.p.g.), according to a study by the Paris based International Energy Agency (IEA), in Paris, its European counterpart manages 32.1 m.p.g.

"European consumers are very sensitive to fuel economy and sophisticated about engine options," says Lew Fulton, a transport analyst with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). "European car magazines are full of comparisons of fuel costs over the life of a vehicle."

Europe's cars: 40 percent are diesel

That approach has given a special boost to diesel cars, which make up more than 40 percent of European car sales, compared with just 4 percent in the US.

Just ahead of Colombier in the line at the gas station Thursday was Nicole Marie, a high school teacher, who was using her husband's diesel Audi, rather than her own gasoline-powered car, to take her daughter to Normandy for a final week of vacation by the sea.


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