Senator John Warner of Virginia proposed earlier this month to reinstate a national speed limit with the hopes of reducing fuel consumption on a nationwide level. The suggestion implies that the nation should return to a national speed limit of 55mph.

Congress first instating the 55 mph speed limit in 1974, due to an energy shortage caused by the Arab oil embargo. At that time, studies showed that the country saved 2% of highway fuel consumption due to the national reduction in speed. That national speed limit was repealed in 1995, at a low price point of crude oil.

Proponents of the national speed limit argue that with 24 years of traffic growth, the amount of fuel we could currently save today would be significantly higher. However, we have had 24 years of significant engine development, road development, and aerodynamics development to our vehicles. I have been unable to identify any RECENT data that shows that 55mph is the way to go.

For better or worse, I drive a vehicle with a larger engine. I know that I get better gas mileage and lower RPMS driving closer to 65mph on PA highways than I do 55mph. My motorcycle’s sweet spot, in 6th gear is around 65 as well. How can the Energy Department properly conduct a study of this magnitude when we literally have thousands of different types of modern and older vehicles on the road today that needs to be studied?

How do you factor in that an average 1 hour drive now increases an additional 9 minutes, and on the return trip you are now on the highway alone for 18 minutes more per day. The congestion of everyone being on the road for longer each day can only increase the amount of fuel consumption.

Now, I am not suggestion that the idea of 55mph is completely wrong, but let individuals and corporations study it themselves. They know what types of vehicles they are driving and can accurately determine what works best for them. Everyone has heard of UPS’s reduction in left hand turns that lead to an estimated $600million in savings, so let them study what works best for their fleet, don’t mandate something across the board which may actually hurt private individuals (through lost wages from more time on the road to potential increases in fuel consumption).

To really get to the heart of the fuel consumption problem, we should not be looking at speed limits anyhow. More should be done to investigate congestion on non-highways with people sitting at traffic lights through multiple red lights, or through tollbooths that cause rapidly moving vehicles to sit in idling traffic for minutes on end to pay a $.50 toll (I am talking about you New Jersey).

I understand the need for toll roads, but let’s think of a way to increase the use of systems such as EZpass, and the removal of the traditional toll-booth. Or let’s get our traffic lights actually synchronized so you don’t sit at a light two or three times as it changes. The average 10 mile commute in my (suburban) area takes 30-40 minutes, the bulk of which is sitting at traffic lights. Adding an extra lane or studying the traffic patterns better would be the best way to reduce fuel consumption. Let me decide on my own what mile per hour speed is best for my vehicle the few times I can actually reach the speed limit.
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William Dorn

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