Drive Slow

Around the time of that last attempt at a nationwide "gas-out", I read a newspaper article about real ways that Americans could battle the high price of gasoline.

One of the suggested methods was driving slower. This price-fighting tactic has absolutely no sex appeal, but requires only the tiniest sacrifice from participants. I was interested, and decided to conduct a really boring test, with two tanks of gas.

Our family has two cars. One has four doors and is typically used by Stacy and June, and for family trips. The other is a little Hyundai Accent, which is used almost exclusively by me for commuting to work on the freeway every day. For this test, I used the Hyundai Accent.


First Tank Slow
I filled up my tank. For the first tank of gas, I drove slow. I kept my speed at or below 65 miles per hour. This meant that I was in the slow lane for most of my travels. I only occasionally passed another car, except while I was in heavy traffic. I also accelerated gently while driving, attempting to conserve fuel.

The technique seemed to work. I had more than 200 miles on my trip odometer before I got to the half-way mark on my tank, which is more than usual. This was totally going to work! Could I really get 400 miles on a single tank?

After ten days, the first tank of gas was almost gone. my "low fuel" warning light came on at 398 miles, and at 413 miles, I stopped for gasoline. This was pretty damn good. I couldn't remember ever getting such good mileage in this car. I filled the tank with 10.1 gallons, which indicates that slow driving had yielded 40.9 miles per gallon.



Second Tank Fast
After two weeks of driving slow, I was looking forward to driving fast. My goal was to drive at or below 77 mph when traffic conditions allowed. One of the advantages of driving a little Hyundai is that 77 mph feels like 100.

Now, instead of other cars passing me, I was doing most of the passing. I also accelerated more aggressively. Driving fast is fun. Accelerating is fun.  I also stopped using my turn signal and started using my horn, basically the complete jackass package.  Of course, I didn't spend the whole tank zipping along at 77. That was just my new top speed.


Half a tank got me further than I expected, 200 miles, but after 339 miles, the gas light came on.
At 352.6 miles, I stopped and filled up the tank once again. Fast driving had used 10.8 gallons at a rate of 33.2 miles per gallon.




Driving with a top speed of 65 mph yielded 40.9 miles per gallon.
Driving with a top speed of 77 mph yielded 33.2 miles per gallon.

Translated into dollars, and using a consistent price of fuel ($3/gallon):
Driving Slow: 10.1 gallons x $3 / 413.0 miles = 7.3 cents per mile
Driving Fast:  10.8 gallons x $3 / 352.6 miles = 9.1 cents per mile

Personal Impact is probably Negative
This comparison brings a problem into focus: You can probably afford to drive fast. 

7 cents vs. 9 cents a mile?

Each mile I drove slow, I was saving 1.8 cents, but it was costing me 8.4 seconds! At this rate, I would need to spend an extra hour in the car to save $7.71. For a lot of people this amount of savings won' t be enough to justify driving slowly.

Community Impact is probably Positive
So, saving $7.71 for an extra hour of driving isn't that impressive, but there are three hidden benefits:
Fewer vehicle emissions.
Lessened risk of speeding citations.
Lowered risk of fatal accidents.

One of the points made in that "gas-out" newspaper article had been that even a small decrease in the amount of gasoline used would cut the price significantly. The price of oil and gasoline fluctuate according to how much supply is available. If the on-hand reserves of oil and gasoline are small, the price tends to rise.  America doesn't need to cut its gasoline use by 50% to cut the price by 50%. We only need to cut the use by 5% to see reserves accumulate, which will definitely drag the price down.

I really believe that cutting back 5% is possible. I am not going to ask you to take a bus to work, because I, myself won't do that. But I am asking you to try doing something, and the thing that is least painful has got to be driving slow.

You have a choice about the way you burn fuel in your car. Try the "driving slow" challenge by limiting your top speed to 65 mph. The next time you fill up, hit your trip odometer and stretch your fuel use to the maximum.

Let me know how it goes!

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February 5th,  2008.

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