By Daniel Hunter

Mid-March pump prices and fuel retailer offers have given the fortunes of UK drivers a distinctively spring-like feel.

However, government figures show that earnings adjusted for inflation are back to 2002 levels, maintaining huge pressure on those who use and those who sell road fuels, the AA Fuel Price Report notes.

A sense of turning the corner on crippling pump prices comes with:

Petrol forecourt prices remaining at a three year low, averaging 129.46p a litre in mid March compared to 129.63p last month. A year ago petrol averaged 138.42p a litre.

Diesel prices at their lowest since July 2012, averaging 136.59p a litre in mid March compared to 137.02p last month — with wholesale price reductions pointing to a further 1p to 2p-a-litre fall shortly. A year ago diesel averaged 145.24p a litre.

The petrol price gap between smaller rural/coastal towns and larger towns with competitive retailers remaining in the 2p to 3p range, as opposed to the 4p to 6p of last year.

The government’s freeze on fuel duty continuing into a fourth year — while 11 of 28 EU countries have or are due to increase theirs this year, including France, Holland, Italy and Sweden.

Continued price cutting between supermarkets with petrol as low as 125.7p a litre, and a more innovative and fairer approach to money off fuel from in-store spending (Tesco).

A small increase in the number of petrol stations after years of decline.

Improved weather after the wettest winter on record, and little sign of a repetition of last year’s second coldest March on record.

Earnings down

However, the encouraging outlook at the fuel pump has been tempered by an ONS report at the end of February stating that inflation has turned an average 2%-a-year increase in earnings into an overall 8% decrease between 2009 and 2013. By April 2013, weekly earnings for full-time employees in the UK “were similar to the level seen in 2002” when adjusted for inflation.