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September 12, 2005

Slow Revenge


You’re pissed off about high gas prices, right?  I thought so.  But you don’t really want FEMA to run gasoline distribution, do you?  I thought not.  I’m trying slow revenge;  I’m driving the speed limit.  The difference in gas consumption is huge.

I’ve been a speeder for years; I don’t like to wait. Besides, everybody else is doing it. The speeding’s been expensive in terms of tickets and, more importantly, insurance rates. However, I haven’t thought about the effect on fuel consumption since the fuel crisis of the 70s.

According to the US Federal Trade Commission here there is a 25% increase in fuel consumption at 75mph as opposed to 65.; a 20% increase as you go from 55 to 65.  Of course, you’re also covering more ground per minute so miles per gallon is not going down quite this fast.

I know you don’t want me to rely on government sources so I went a real authority: howstuffworks.com.  An article here explains that the energy required to overcome air resistance goes up as the CUBE of velocity.  The higher your speed is, the more significant the energy used in plowing through the air. (Incidentally, this same physics explains why a hurricane wind of 120 mph is so much more damaging than a wind of “only” 100 mph.).

Going too slowly is not efficient either because the engine has to keep pushing itself through its motions (why hybrids make sense). Obviously, you get the worst mileage possible if you are stopped with the engine running – zero miles per gallon.  howstuffworks says that the “sweet spot” in terms of maximum mileage for most cars is between forty and sixty miles per hour. SUVs tend to be at the low end of the range because of their big frontal area while sleek little cars are near the high end of the range.

So it looks like these FTC figures may be a reasonable approximation for the average car.  How fast you drive really does make a big difference in fuel consumption.  If you slow down from 75 to 65, you will repeal much of the effect of the gasoline price increase of the last few weeks on your budget.

If we all slow down, we get revenge on either the oil refiners or the free market (pick depending on your political economics).  The US has lost roughly 10% of its refining capacity for at least a while. If everyone we’re saving 15% in gasoline usage by slowing down, demand for motor fuel at least would go back below supply. Moreover, people are driving less and car pooling more because of high prices so the actual drop in demand would go even further.  If that happens, gasoline prices will go back down, I promise, and so will refiner prices and profits.

I have thought about speeding up as I go through town with 30 mph hour speed limits so that I’ll be driving more efficiently.  Besides the tickets I’d get, that really doesn’t work either. Each time I have to brake for a slower car ahead of me or brake hard for a light, I’m squandering the fuel I used to accelerate to the higher speed. I’m playing a game of trying to use the brakes less (mainly by using the accelerator less) in hopes that I’m also saving gas that way. It’s easy to get yourself in a mood to do this if you think of the energy and money dissipating as heat off the brake discs every time you tromp the brake pedal (one more point for hybrids: they use braking energy to recharge their batteries).

In my new found zeal for fuel efficiency, I’ve even learned to use the cruise control. It stops me from gradually speeding up and also controls the engine more efficiently than I can by hand.

Driving the speed limit on the Garden State Parkway and The New Jersey Turnpike is so far a pretty lonely experience. I’ve restricted myself to the right lane so am not actively trying to slow everybody else down. I do speed up when I pass the rare vehicle even slower than me or move into the middle lane to allow someone to get in on an entrance ramp since 65 in anything except the right lane is probably fatal.  And I have to leave even more time to get to the airport but the ride is calmer.  I don’t have to look for cops at all.

Slow revenge is bitter sweet.

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