DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – It’s February, and many who study the industry say gasoline prices are the highest they’ve ever been at this time of the year. To put it simply,this isn’t typically when the price at the pump soars.

But it’s hard to argue with the figures: Last year at this time, North Texans spent an average of $3 a gallon on gas. This year, Triple A says that’s jumped a whole fifty cents to $3.50 a gallon.

With the national average hovering at $3.56 a gallon, these experts are saying recent price hikes are only setting the stage for even more expensive gas as spring and summer approach.

“Four dollars to $4.25 isn’t unrealistic at this point,” said Bruce Bullock, a professor at Southern Methodist University’s Maguire Energy Institute.

So what’s driving these record-setting prices? Bullock said it’s mainly fear in the marketplace.

With several OPEC –– Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries –– nations entangled in political unrest, there is concern that the supply won’t be there in the future, he said.

Analysts say that fear is driving crude oil buyers to purchase more, which drives demand and, in turn, drives up prices.

And on Monday, Iran announced it is halting exports to France and Britain, stirring even more uncertainty.

These increases are making Dallas residents feel the pinch.

“I’ve gone from needing super to settling for the cheapest grade because it’s extremely high,” said Steve Connatser as he fueled his older-model Jaguar at an Uptown gas station.

Driver Luke Johnson said he’s paying 60 cents more a gallon now than he was two weeks ago.

“Not a whole lot you can do about it,” he said begrudgingly. “It’s kind of maddening.”

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the increases for drivers is seeing how gas allowances begin affecting other areas of their finances.

“Most of my money goes toward gas,” said driver Latasha Luckey. “If I look at my bank statements, my stops are gas: Shell, Exxon, Texaco. It’s gas.”

SMU’s Bullock said helplessness is a common feeling consumers have. However, he said if more people join the energy policy debate, it could bring about real change.

“Pay close attention to the energy issues,” Bullock said. “We have a lot of domestic oil that’s not being developed.”