f/k/a . . . the archives

April 23, 2008

post-earth-day pledge: speed limits and efficient driving

Filed under: viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 4:42 pm

It’s Earth Day Plus One: Now it’s time to see whether we really want to make a difference — by changing our habits in a meaningful way, despite the inconvenience.

Earth Day –
recycled bottles
in a three-car garage

… by dagosan [April 24, 2005]

If politicians and the public were serious about achieving fuel economy — in order to save money and save Earth from greenhouse gases — they would start enforcing our speed limit laws and rollback the highway speed limit to 55 mph. [followup (July 4, 2008): see our post "speed limit politics"]

Fuel economy decreases rapidly above 60 mph, according to the FTC. And, as we reported on May 2, 2005, “driving at 10 miles an hour above the 65 miles-per-hour increases fuel consumption by 15 percent.” (See NYT, “Unmentioned Energy Fix: A 55 M.P.H. Speed Limit,” May 1, 2005)

supplemental update (April 24, 2008): Eartheasy.com‘s Fuel-Efficient Driving page tells us that “The keys to climate control are in your hands.” It states:

You can boost the overall fuel-efficiency of your car as much as 30% by simple vehicle maintenance and attention to your style of driving. Here are some tips on fuel-efficient driving that will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, but could save you hundreds of dollars a year in fuel costs.

The Eartheasy piece succinctly summarizes this EPA fuel efficiency graph:

Drive steadily at posted speed limits. Increasing your highway cruising speed from 55mph (90km/h) to 75mph (120km/h) can raise fuel consumption as much as 20%. You can improve your gas mileage 10 – 15% by driving at 55mph rather than 65mph (104km/h). Note how quickly efficiency drops after 60 mph.

You can find more detailed and technical information at How Stuff Works.com. Its article “What speed should I drive to get maximum fuel efficiency?” states, for example, that:

  • “[F]or most cars, the ‘sweet spot’ on the speedometer is in the range of 40-60 mph. Cars with a higher road load will reach the sweet spot at a lower speed.”
  • “In general, smaller, lighter, more aerodynamic cars will get their best mileage at higher speeds. Bigger, heavier, less aerodynamic vehicles will get their best mileage at lower speeds.”
  • “If you drive your car in the ‘sweet spot’ you will get the best possible mileage for that car. If you go faster or slower, the mileage will get worse, but the closer you drive to the sweet spot the better mileage you will get.”


So, we have an easy but significant fuel economy solution — with one big problem: human nature. Politicians don’t have the guts to call for any real sacrifices and we plain folk — myself included — like driving fast and getting to our destinations quicker. Of course, I’ve learned that no matter how much the f/k/a Gang nags, we don’t change many minds or habits.

you!Me. The only person I can control is myself, and I pledge today to follow the speed limit on all highways and (as explained below) adopt habits that will enhance my driving efficiency. In addition, I’m going to actively campaign for both the enforcement of our speed limit laws and the return to 55 mph as the speed limit on our highways. Of course, you are welcome to join the pledge.

traffic patrol A 2005 survey by the Governors Highway Safety Association confirmed what we already knew: almost every state allows drivers to regularly and significantly exceed the speed limit before they are stopped — and “Nearly all respondents reported a public perception that there exists a cushion above a posted speed limit in which officers will not cite offenders. The range most often reported was 5-10 miles per hour above the posted limit. “ NewsMax.com, AP, “Survey: Most States Allow Speed Cushion,” June 13, 2005; Survey Executive Summary). One news report noted:

“Authorities patrolling U.S. highways tend to give motorists a cushion of up to 10 miles per hour above the speed limit before pulling them over, says a survey by a group of state traffic safety officials. The group found that 42 states allow drivers to regularly exceed the speed limit before they are stopped. [Editor's Note: only 47 states responded to this survey; at least one of the non-responders -- New York -- clearly also has the speed cushion.]

“This cushion truly exists across the country and in some cases is more than 10 miles above posted limits,” said Jim Champagne, the GHSA’s chairman.

Law enforcement needs to be given the political will to enforce speed limits and the public must get the message that speeding will not be tolerated,” said Champagne . . .

. . . “Since 1994, 38 states have increased their speed limit, the report said. Congress in 1995 allowed states to raise limits above 55 mph in urban areas and 65 mph on rural roads.

“[And, yes, speed both costs and kills:] A study released in 1999 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated an increase in deaths on interstates and freeways of about 15 percent in the 24 states that had raised their speed limit in late 1995 and 1996.”


earthSG In 2005, I opined: “I hate to be cynical, but I don’t think there’s any chance that the American public — or their courageous leaders — will go along with lowering speed limits to 55 mph in order to save billions of gallons of oil a year.” This is another time when I would love to see one of my predictions proven wrong.

An AP article in yesterday’s Schenectady Gazette, like similar ones over the past few years, told of consumer angst over high gasoline prices but failed to mention anything about non-commercial drivers reducing speed to reduce gas consumption. See AP/Gazette online, “Drivers, eyeing gas prices now averaging $3.50 a gallon nationwide, say they feel squeezed” (April 22, 2008)

The only exception are trucking companies: “The American Trucking Associations on Monday said it will host a ‘fuel strategies workshop’ in June to help fleet operators cope with soaring prices. ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said fuel has now surpassed labor as the trucking industry’s biggest cost, prompting some companies to install devices that prevent drivers from speeding.” [And see, "Truckers Back a National 65-mph Speed Limit," US News & World Report, March 26, 2008]

Since far too few drivers are likely to regulate themselves and slow down without an incentive, the first step is obvious (and easy): Our Governors and law enforcement officials need to bite the bullet and declare that – oh-my-god! — we’re going to enforce the speed limit; and then they need to do it. Filling depleted state coffers with the speeding fines will just be an added bonus — and should cover the extra cost of diligent, deterrent, habit-shaping enforcement.

- update (May 25, 2008): Rather than call for enforcement of speed limits, tough-on-crime politician Jim Tedisco, Republican leader in the NYS Assembly, continues to pander over the Memorial Day weekend, in the Op/Ed piece “To help achieve lower gas prices, make your voice heard” (Sunday Gazette, May 25, 2008).

Sadly, despite the use of alternative fuels and the purported switch to cars with better mileage, the Federal Trade Commission’s Oil-Gas webpage recently noted, “the Energy Information Administration forecasts that gasoline consumption will continue to increase through 2030.” (FTC Gasoline Column, March 7, 2008) However. there are things you and I can do individually today (and, hopefully, tomorrow) to reduce fuel consumption without buying a new car.

As the FTC consumer alert “Saving Money at the Gas Pump: A Bumper-to-Bumper Guide” (FTC Consumer Alert 2006) reminds us: “When it comes to stretching your gas budget, how you drive can be almost as important as how far you drive.

55 limit n So, please join me in my pledge to drive smart and increase my fuel efficiency. Here are some useful tips from the 2005 FTC Consumer Alert “Good, Better, Best: How to Improve Gas Mileage“:

On the Road: Drive More Efficiently

* Stay within posted speed limits. Gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 miles per hour.
* Stop aggressive driving. You can improve your gas mileage up to five percent around town if you avoid “jackrabbit” starts and stops by anticipating traffic conditions and driving gently.
* Avoid unnecessary idling. It wastes fuel, costs you money, and pollutes the air. Turn off the engine if you anticipate a wait.
* Combine errands. Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.
* Use overdrive gears and cruise control when appropriate. They improve the fuel economy of your car when you’re driving on a highway.
* Remove excess weight from the trunk. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk can reduce a typical car’s fuel economy by up to two percent.
* Avoid packing items on top of your car. A loaded roof rack or carrier creates wind resistance and can decrease fuel economy by five percent.

And, At the Garage: Maintain Your Car

* Keep your engine tuned. Tuning your engine according to your owner’s manual can increase gas mileage by an average of four percent. Increases vary depending on a car’s condition.
* Keep your tires properly inflated and aligned. It can increase gas mileage up to three percent.
* Change your oil. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), you can improve your gas mileage by using the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil. Motor oil that says “Energy Conserving” on the performance symbol of the American Petroleum Institute contains friction-reducing additives that can improve fuel economy.
* Check and replace air filters regularly. Replacing clogged filters can increase gas mileage up to ten percent.


To help keep myself on track, I plan to report back regularly with frank assessments of my compliance with this very doable but also somewhat daunting checklist of good driver practices in the fuel-reduction game. My first big test may come on Mother’s Day, when I drive the 220 miles to see Mama G. I’m going have to get out the door a bit earlier to stay on schedule while abiding by the speed limit. I’m looking forward to seeing my gas-savings at the pump driving the New York Thruway at 65. Watching all those cell-phoning, tail-gating fools pass me along the way might just inspire a senryu or two.

gasNozzleG – for further related reading see our posts: “summer gas tax holiday: hot air from the panderpols” (April 30, 2008); Open Letter to Gas Whiners and Another Silly One-Day Gas Boycott -

update: See the op-ed column “Government at all levels can — should — take steps to help with gas crunch,” (by Joe Slomka, Schenectady Sunday Gazette, April 27, 2008). Among other good points, Joe says:

“I’m as mad about high gas prices as the next guy, but what I’m really mad about is the fact that this is a problem we created for ourselves and are doing virtually nothing to solve. And solving it would involve so little sacrifice. . . . What I’m talking about, mostly, is motorists — especially the ones who drive those guzzlers — slowing down.”

good news (but no excuse to speed): “As Gas Costs Soar, Buyers Flock to Small Cars” (New York Times, May 2, 2008) “[T]here are some indications that the trend toward smaller vehicles will reduce the nation’s fuel use. In California, motorists bought 4 percent less gasoline in January than they did the year before, a drop of more than 58 million gallons, according to the Oil Price Information Service.”

more resources (May 3, 2008): For a lot of information and inspiration (and some great bumper stickers) zoom over to iDrive55.org – the Drive 55 Conservation Project.

And “carpool for a better tomorrow” with RideSearch.com.

Good news (May 8, 2008): Our local News Channel 13 in Albany, NY, had a segment yesterday called “Some drivers reduce speed to save gas” (wnyt.com, May 7, 2008), which points out that “Researchers say today’s cars are most fuel efficient at speeds between around 30 and 60 miles per hour. Mileage drops sharply at speeds above 65 as engines work harder.” The piece includes a poll asking whether you are slowing down due to high gas prices.

more good news (May 10, 2008): “Gas prices sends surge of riders to mass transit” (New York Times, May 10, 2008). “Some cities with long-established public transit systems, like New York and Boston, have seen increases in ridership of 5 percent or more so far this year. But the biggest surges — of 10 to 15 percent or more over last year — are occurring in many metropolitan areas in the South and West where the driving culture is strongest and bus and rail lines are more limited.”

update (May 16, 2008) Don’t forget the Sierra Club’s Memorial Day Pledge — “I can drive 55.” See our post.

p.s. What’s Your Carbon Footprint? A Carbon Footprint is a measure of the impact our activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases we produce. It is measured in units of carbon dioxide. Earth Day (or any day) is a good time to calculate your carbon footprint. At Carbon Footprint.com you can also calculate the (incredibly large amount of ) CO2 you’ll use by flying to a destination.


  1. Here is food for thoughts. I myself looked for better ways to reduce my fuel consumption with my current car(a 2003 Town and Country Mini Van 3.8l) from Chrysler. After visiting several web sites like Efficient.gov I learned the
    “How To” save gas without buying a new car with a high gas mileage. However, since I am an animal of habits (bad ones as far as driving habits) I found it boring and stressful to follow the suggestions to reduce my fuel consumption, until I visited http://www.efficientdriving.com

    I got their free e-book, decided to try it. O Boy!!!! did I stumble on a
    good thing…. I now average a 40% gas savings and it is fun to do, my grand kids also participate when I drive them around..

    Comment by FanFan la tulipe — May 19, 2008 @ 3:14 pm

  2. Biofuels (mainly ethanol and biodiesel) fall short when compared to other alternatives, such as Natural Gas, which is currently available in abundant supply as a viable option. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’ s Green Vehicle Guide, …

    Trackback by ann — October 21, 2008 @ 1:45 am

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