Economize at 65

Our view : Less acceleration on the road, more savings at the pump

June 10, 2008

With gas prices hovering around the $4 mark, the U.S. needs a serious energy conservation strategy. There are any number of options that ought to be pursued, from investing in energy alternatives to developing better transit systems, but there's one that's gotten surprisingly little attention despite its potential for substantial savings.

It is time to reduce the maximum speed on the nation's highways.

President Richard Nixon was the first to pursue such a course 34 years ago when he approved a national speed limit of 55 miles per hour in response to an oil crisis. That policy was abandoned in the 1980s, but the benefits are clear. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average vehicle's fuel economy drops considerably when it travels faster than 60 mph. A car that gets 30 miles per gallon on the highways, for instance, may lose 20 percent of its fuel efficiency if driven at 75 mph.

A return to 55 mph limits is unlikely to prove effective - too many motorists are bound to ignore it. Worse, the lower limit might increase the so-called speed differential (the difference in speed between vehicles traveling on the same road), and some believe that raises accident rates.

But a national 65 mph limit - as the country had briefly before national limits were repealed in the 1990s - would be a better course. Maryland (along with other Northeast states) already limits traffic to 65 mph, but in the West and Southwest, statewide speed limits of 70 mph to 75 mph are common.

How much gasoline and diesel fuel might be saved? It's difficult to estimate, but research has shown that sensible driving - not only reducing top speeds but also eliminating quick acceleration and braking - can extend fuel economy by as much as 33 percent.

The 65 mph speed limit is a small step, but coupled with a public education campaign reminding motorists about how much they can save by driving less aggressively, the gains could be significant. At the very least, it means better fuel economy and less greenhouse gas emissions and smog. That's quite a return for such a small sacrifice.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.