Time to lower speed limits.

Posted by admin
Aug 08 2006

With BP’s announcement today of the shutdown of its pipeline from the North Slope of Alaska for, possibly, weeks or months in order to repair parts that have corroded too much, the markets reacted quickly and predictably. Oil prices surged and people are worrying about the possibility of their future gas purchases hovering around $4.00 per gallon. The administration is even releasing oil stocks from the nation’s petroleum reserve to help cope with this recent event.

It is time for our representatives in state legislatures and in Congress to take reasonable measures to help reduce the financial impact. As I write, people in many parts of the country are cruising on the interstates with posted speed limits of sixty-five, seventy, or seventy-five miles per hour; many of them will drive in excess of those limits.

I have two proposals for our representatives to entertain: The first is a simple, across the board cut in speed limits on the interstate highways. Maybe they can take them down by five miles per hour for any speed limits currently above sixty-five miles per hour. It might be palatable to the current generation of leadfoots out there and would certainly reduce the rate of fuel consumption.

The second is more drastic, yet one that I favor at this point: Cap the speed limit at sixty, everywhere. Drivers would have to accept that a mile a minute is a reasonable sacrifice in these times of constrained fuel supplies. This doesn’t have to be an effort solely for environmentalists and conservationists. Conservatives — even the most rabid, Hummer-driving, cigar-chomping, gun-toting wingnut — can also take part by printing up and distributing fuel pump hose and nozzle ribbon magnets with “Support Our Speed Limit” emblazoned on them. Heck, they can tie it to their war on terror, for all I care at this point. (Why not? They tend to tie everything else to it — torture, domestic spying, war profiteering, or Republican party power grabs. What’s one more?)

It is no secret that speed kills fuel economy. I can drive my aging Ford Focus at sixty and get thirty miles per gallon. If I drive at seventy, it drops to twenty-six. Now imagine those big ol’, gas guzzling SUVs that, more often than not, pass me by as if I was standing still. They are certainly not getting thirty miles per gallon. It’s almost certain that many of them are flirting with numbers under the teens. Add to their road speed such factors as air conditioning, wind resistance, and/or whatever they might be towing (ATV’s, boats, or horses) and we’re now talking single-digit ranges. Since Congress is dragging its heels on mandating increases in fuel economy standards, we might as well tell them to act to slow down the current fleet of vehicles, many of which are getting lousy fuel economy due to their years of inaction.

If this matter were simply about the speeds we travel, the fuel crisis might not be such a big deal, relatively-speaking. Unfortunately, it is much more than that. The price of gasoline, along with everything else affected by the price of a barrel of oil, has had a noticeable impact on people’s purchasing power and habits this year. What is worse is that we have yet to enter the winter months, when the price of heating fuel will be felt by millions of Americans. Last year, many people were compelled to turn their thermostats down to levels that were merely uncomfortable. For us in Minnesota, we were fortunate to experience a mild winter. If this winter turns out to be a harsh one, and with the added costs of fuel, I fear that many people will be more than uncomfortable. If we do not act to reduce the consumption of gasoline for use in travel, we will have a negative effect on the stocks and/or price of heating fuel.

We’ve pushed things too far for too long and it is way past time we consider actions to lower the speed limits – if not across the nation, then at least here in Minnesota.

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