Gasoline expenditures for the average U.S. household continued to climb in 2012, returning to levels not seen since 2008.

The average household spent $2,912 last year on gasoline, according to the Energy Department’s independent Energy Information Administration. That reflects just under 4% of average income before taxes, the highest estimated percentage spent on gasoline in nearly three decades with the exception of 2008.

In the early 1980s, the estimated portion of household income spent on gasoline surpassed 5% before remaining below 3% from the middle of the decade to 2004.

The EIA noted that while gasoline consumption has declined and vehicle efficiency has risen in recent years, households are spending more on gasoline as prices have climbed and travel has become more frequent.

Efficiency gains have accelerated to bring U.S. gasoline consumption down in 2011 to 134.2 billion gallons, its lowest level since 2001, the report explained. But the average city retail gasoline price jumped 26.1% in 2011 and another 3.3% last year, when it reached $3.70 per gallon. The report said higher prices in those two years outweighed the effect of reduced consumption.

EIA’s estimated gasoline price increase of 3.3% for 2012 outpaced the 2.9% estimated increase in nominal household income.

In 2011, household gasoline expenditures continued its upward trend with an annual average of $2,655. The 26.1% jump in prices that year was more than six-times greater than a 3.4% rise in income.

According to AAA, national gasoline prices sit at an average $3.52 on Monday, up from $3.47 a year earlier and $3.29 just one month ago. The group’s highest recorded average price, $4.11, came in 2008.

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