Thursday, July 17, 2008

I Can't Drive 55!

Oil prices have soared to a startling$145 per barrel, and the national gas price average is hovering above $4 per gallon. And as many consider all of the possible strategies which could ease this burden on American drivers, the 55-mph speed limit is starting to be hashed over. For those of you who remember, it was imposed in the mid-1970s and remained in effect for 20 years. In 1974, in response to an oil shortage caused by the Arab oil embargo, Congress set the speed limit at this fixed number and saved Americans 167,000 barrels of petroleum a day.

The Energy Department correctly predicted that at lower speeds, cars would operate at optimum efficiency. It turned out that fuel efficiency decreases rapidly at speeds higher than 60 mph. Each additional 5 mph above 60 costs drivers another 30 cents per gallon. Even hybrid vehicles (only now becoming the rage) also lose efficiency at higher speeds. A hybrid that averages around 38 miles per gallon can reach 50 mpg at 55 mph. When that increases to 65 mph, the efficiency drops to a mpg in the low 30’s.

Since 55 was abolished, states have been free to set their own speed limits. This has been logical. The highest are found in the inland West and the lowest are found in the Northeast. Some are in a class by themselves, and rightly so. In stretches of West Texas, where your nearest drugstore is only a short 200 miles away, 80 mph is the limit. When there is only cactus and jack rabbits within a 500 mile radius, does 125 mph seem like a crime?

The idea of another 55 mph speed limit is as bad an idea as bringing back the bell-bottom pants!

Studies have shown that the reduced speed limit lessoned the nation’s highway fuel consumption by only 2 per cent. The answer to our problem is not limiting the speed on our highways; it is by addressing our consumption in ways that really matter. First of all, let’s face it, Americans don’t reduce their speed because of imposed limits (a Michigan state traffic study supports this). “Reducing a speed limit doesn’t reduce how fast people drive,” said State Police spokeswoman Shanon Akans.

It turns out that speed variations are more dangerous than high speeds. Agencies, country wide, are working together to actually raise speed limits from 65 to 70 on freeways in order to improve safer, uniform traffic.

The real need is to address our oil demand. The amount of oil consumed during rush hour traffic in any major city seems to be more of a concern than what is happening on our nation’s highways. While oil consumption in other industrialized countries has either leveled off or declined, in the United States, oil demand has soared 38 per cent since the original oil shock of 1973.

The Bush administration’s focus has been to increase the supply of oil, which also happens to be the priority of the energy industry, instead of finding ways to cut back on energy demand. Barrack Obama’s spokesman said that he would leave setting speed limits to the states and would focus instead on renewable energy and improved efficiency. Getting the automobile industry to increase the average mileage per gallon requirement would be a good start. Increased diligence towards finding renewable energy, carpooling, and limiting trips is a far more promising strategy.

Go on & write me up for 125
Post my face, wanted dead or alive
Take my license n’ all that jive
I can’t drive 55!—Sammy Hagar

And as someone said, “Otherwise it seems like another ploy to get money by writing tickets.”

1 comment:

Janice Phelps Williams said...

My two cents: install red-light cameras at all major intersections and ticket the owner of every car who runs a red light (yes, I was almost hit by one recently). Also, ticket anyone driving over 80 on the interstates. Make drunk driving fines and consequences really high. I am more worried about people killing me in an intersection than driving 75 on the freeway. But, this is about energy consumption, right? How about license plate fees related to size or energy efficiency of vehicle? How about better public transportation in small-ish towns? How about bike lanes on county roads? Ah well... so much can be done. Changing the speed limit to save gas seems short-sighted, and there might be other ramifications to the economy (like taking truckers longer to get good somewhere; hiring more patrolmen to give tickets; more court time to process tickets, etc).
Thanks for thought-provoking points.