Biz Week's Wallace: Energy Independence is Only a 60mph Speed Limit Away!

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams
biz week s wallace energy independence is only a 60mph speed limit away

Forget the political tussle over Corporate Average Fuel Economy legislation. Business Week's Ed Wallace has the solution to all our energy problems: lower the speed limit. Wallace says if we dropped the highway speed limits to 60 mph and "rigidly enforced them," America "would save 96,135,846 gallons of gasoline each and every week." The scribe also states "this single action could resolve our energy problems in seven working days." Mr. Wallace only mentions Ye Olde National Maximum Speed Law of 1974 in passing, even though the legislation introduced the term "double nickel" into the lexicon and put Richard Nixon and Sammy Hagar at opposite ends of the socio-political spectrum. Maybe that's because the national limit didn't save gas. The [admittedly conservative] Heritage Foundation reckons the law reduced gas consumption by one percent, although God knows the ticket revenue was (is?) phenomenal.

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  • Pch101 Pch101 on Aug 17, 2007
    As for the comment from another reader that the 1975 cars were 20% more efficient than their 1973 counterpart, not true. That is not at all what I said. Once again: You are trying to claim that it was possible to simultaneously have seen a 20% increase in fuel economy due to the speed limit decrease in 1974, yet see an actual gain in overall fuel usage of less than 1%, because the cars purchased in 1974 were drastically more inefficient than those sold in prior years. Your claim is statistically impossible and cannot be true. A simple exercise with a calculator makes it clear that it is simply not possible for your argument to be true. There is no way that the cars purchased in 1974-75 were so much more inefficient than the cars that preceded them that it would have been possible to offset a 20% less fuel usage gained from the speed limit reduction. Absolutely, utterly impossible. If you are going to make such a claim, I'd like to see how you calculated it. An anecdote about an Oldsmobile will not cut it.
  • Aren Cambre Aren Cambre on Aug 17, 2007

    What’s even worse is the naivete behind this proposal. For this maybe 1% gain, what are the costs? -Decreased respect for all traffic laws, which in turn could cause increases in dangerous, aggressive driving, increased disrespect for the entire body of law, and increases in dangerous speeds in areas where the speed limit may really mean it (if one becomes accustomed to x mph undermarked rural speed limits, what’s to prevent him from assuming that non-undermarked speed limits really aren’t undermarked?) -Decreased respect for traffic enforcement and affiliated personnel. -Societal acceptance of arbitrary behavior restrictions. -Unilateral focus on speed enforcement, at the detriment of enforcing more important traffic laws. -Use of photo ticketing. (Just watch!) -Theft of personal property (in the form of revenue generated from traffic tickets). Etc. No, thank you. If we really need to reduce gas consumption, we need to shift income taxes to gas taxes and keep doing it until consumption is where we want it.

  • Pch101 Pch101 on Aug 17, 2007

    To follow on to the earlier point, perhaps a numeric example would be helpful here. Let's pretend for a moment that the speed limit reduction led to a 20% increase in average fuel economy. Let's pretend further still that 20% of the cars on the road in 1973 were completely eliminated by 1975 and replaced by gas guzzlers that could offset the fuel economy gains from the rest of fleet. (This is a scenario similar to what Mr. Wallace is effectively claiming.) This is what the math looks like: -80% of the fleet used to get 13.2 mpg. With the 55 mph limit, it is getting 15.8 mpg. -But the average overall fuel economy was 13.3 mpg. -Backing into that 13.3 mpg figure, the remaining 20% of cars would need to be getting 3.1 mpg. This scenario of 20% of Americans suddenly driving cars getting 3 mpg is obviously a fantastic, impossible scenario, particularly when you remember that small cars became increasingly popular beginning in 1974 because of the fuel crisis of that time. Are you asking us to believe that the increased sales of Vegas, Pintos, Datsun 510's, Corollas, etc. further offset by other cars getting 1/2 mile per gallon? Again, a speed limit reduction this is disobeyed and not applicable to most of our roadways will do nothing to help overall fuel economy. While individuals can achieve some savings by reducing speeds, the overall benefit will not be that high and cannot be imposed by law. Getting people to drive less and to drive more efficient vehicles are the only viable solutions.

  • Fallout11 Fallout11 on Aug 20, 2007

    I.C.E. designs, operational efficiencies, gearbox ratios, and vehicle body aerodynamic profiles have changed markedly since the early 1970's. What made sense then, from an efficiency standpoint, is no longer true. A new 4 cylinder 2007 Honda Civic is actually most efficient at 64 miles per hour, not the 45-55 mph range typical for a 1973 V-8 Impala. Further, a recent Georgia DOT survey found that fully 87% of motorists on Georgia's highways routinely disobeyed the posted speed limits. Any law that nearly 9/10 people ignore cannot be enforced.