The temporary shutdown of a major fuel pipeline in the U.S. isn't expected to create shortages or price hikes in the Garden State, as long as consumers behave.

In the meantime, experts are keeping their eye on a different kind of shortage that has the potential to impact prices at the pump — a shortage of truck drivers.

Gasoline prices have been rising rather steadily over the course of the last few weeks in New Jersey as the weather warms up and more folks appear comfortable with hitting the road in the face of COVID-19. Since the Friday shutdown of the Georgia-headquartered Colonial Pipeline, which was initiated following a cyberattack, average gas prices have increased by 3 cents in the Garden State, according to AAA.

"One of the things that we need motorists to not do is panic buy," said Tracy Noble, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "We don't need people thinking that there is going to be a shortage and rush out to fill their tank and every household vehicle. That could then make a problem."

Noble noted New Jersey is at the "tail end" of the Colonial Pipeline, and that refining capacity in the northeast amounts to hundreds of thousands of gallons of gasoline per day.

"We are sitting very well in New Jersey as far as supply goes," she said. "We don't foresee any fuel shortages in New Jersey at this time as a result of the pipeline."

Experts believe a bigger concern related to fuel prices in New Jersey is the struggle to get folks behind the tanker-truck wheel.

According to Gail Toth, executive director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association, a shortage of qualified personnel has been an issue for years as more folks retire and fewer look to enter the field.

The shortage was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic due to the shutdown of driving schools and delays in testing for a commercial driver's license. Companies were also forced to lay off employees.

Toth said the industry is requesting approval from officials to carry more fuel per truck, at least until the Colonial Pipeline situation is cleared, to help make up for fewer truckers on the road.

"If we could increase our weight restrictions temporarily, that'll give us several extra loads a day per driver," Toth said. "It's a much safer way to go than increasing the hours of service."

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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