I'm back in my old home state, Nebraska, right now. As I was driving on the central expressway corridor, Interestate 80--commonly called "I-80" by locals, not "The 80" as locals might say in southern California--I was thinking about how much gas people (including me) were wasting driving the 75-MPH which is the posted speed limit. Now, estimates vary, but it seems that most auto efficiency websites claim that fuel efficiency for most cars decreases above 55 or 60 MPH, and especially above 65 MPH.
Back when I was growing up, I remember that speed limits were raised from 65 to 75 MPH. Even though the change was popular, I remember being opposed at the time on the basis of safety considerations. To the best of my knowledge, such safety concerns are still valid: it is not so much that people have more accidents, although perhaps they do, but the higher speed inevitably makes such accidents more deadly. But now I wonder if it may be the high gas prices--and, more fundamentally, worries about dwindling oil supplies and global warming--might lead us to reconsider our love affair with high speed limits in America.
I experimented a little yesterday, driving between 60 and 70 MPH whenever possible, but I found that I often had to increase my speed temporarily to 75 in order to avoid creating a traffic bottleneck. Much as I believe in fuel efficiency, I am not willing to make a total pest out of myself on the road, nor am I willing to risk being rear-ended by some extra large pick-up truck or SUV. So that makes me wonder if it is time to broach the taboo topic of LOWERING speed limits. Now, I know that flies in the face of the American entitlement for high consumption and speed...but I still think maybe this time of high and rising gas prices might be a good time to raise the issue.
For its part, the government's own fuel efficiency website has a nice graph showing the huge fuel wastage that usually occurs as you approach 75 MPH. (If you've ever paid attention when going really fast on expressways, you must have noticed this too--I couldn't fail to notice when I had to refill my gas tank after 350 as opposed to 450 miles when driving on high-speed interestates!) However, I do find it somewhat comical that the website places this information under the heading "Observe the Speed Limit." They must not have been to Nebraska (or Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, or Wyoming--and those are only the ones with 75 MPH) lately. If one drove the speed limit in these states, one would be quite on the far right edge of that disastrously plunging graph. Now I realize that many of these states have long, "boring" expanses of open highway, but will it really kill us all to get where we are going a little bit later? Especially considering that we could save a lot of money on gas by slowing down a bit? I suggest that we consider lowering our speed limits to 65 MPH to save energy, money, and lives.