Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Double-Nickel Speed Limit Redux?

Is the “Double-Nickel Speed Limit” About to Make a Comeback?
Senator John Warner of Virginia has suggested that the US government ought to consider mandating the 55-mile per hour speed limit, nationwide, (as it did in the seventies) to conserve oil. We learned in the 1970’s that it didn’t save oil because the vehicles we were driving then were more fuel efficient at 65 and 70 miles per hour… because they had been engineered to cruise at those speeds on the super hiways we had then. In the 30 some odd years since our motor vehicles have been refined to use less gasoline, even, than in the 1970’s. Still they cruise at 65 and 70 miles per hour.

The National Maximum Speed Law (NMSL) was activated in March of 1974. It was part of a package of laws which were supposed to deal with another man made oil crisis. The great men and women in Washington were convinced it would save us tons of gasoline thereby reducing our take of crude oil. Of course, it did not work. Most of us American motorists could have told Congress (and many of us did!) that NMSL was just an aggravating aspect of their meddling in our affairs and especially in the affairs, which should have been left to the states. It turned out that the fuel saved was about one percent of total gasoline consumption. Now… that’s roughly the same amount of gas we could have saved by raising the air pressure in our tires 2 psi, from 24 psi to 26 psi.

Like so many millions of American motorists, I suffered through the 55 MPH law and hardly ever drove the speed limit. In fact, most American motorists thumbed their noses at it and law enforcement simply looked the other way. Only occasionally did they write a few tickets so they could show them to the feds and continue to get those federal hiway dollars pumped into their respective states.

When the fact that the gas saved was a piddling amount was brought to the attention of the Congress, rather than admit they had made a mistake, like mere mortals, they switched the public reasoning for the 55 mph speed limit. It saves lives. Even that was questionable.

Over the road truckers complained bitterly that the NMSL was costing them money in higher fuel costs because their giant engines in those huge trucks were designed to perform at speeds of 65 and 70 (or more) mph on the open road when hauling all that weight. The truck couldn’t get to a cruising speed. It was always “pulling” and therefore the power plant of those big rigs was guzzling more fuel.

If the original NMSL law accomplished anything at all, it should be pointed out, that it turned a nation of motorists into lawbreakers. Only the national prohibition laws saw more lawbreakers!

One of the things never mentioned is the number of accidents caused by drivers who decided to obey the 55 mph speed limit. They became a menace to the otherwise normal flow of traffic at 65 and 70 mph.

Radar detectors became one of the hottest selling items in the country. The device would sit on the dash panel, or on the sun visor, of a car and it would search ahead for police with speed checking radar in use. If, and when, it found one, it sounded a warning and the driver would immediately slow down to 55 mph until he/she was past the police radar device and then press the accelerator down again. Even I had one.

It seems the wise men and wise women in Washington had rather create more lawbreaking motorists than punch a hole in the ground in some god-forsaken Alaskan wilderness, or the floor of the ocean far off shore. Conservation is a wonderful thing… but it will not create a single drop of crude oil. This country, indeed, the entire world, runs on oil. How difficult is that to comprehend? Even a child can understand that.

Do you suppose the inability of our Congress to understand the REAL needs of the country could have anything to do with them having the lowest approval rating of any Congress in the history of the country?


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