Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Gas Me Up, Johnny

Virginia Senator John Warner knows we're broke. Gas prices are kicking everyone in the teeth, in some form or a dozen.

But he wants us to be broke AND late for stuff.

Warner, a Republican, is pursuing what I'm sure seems like a radically progressive solution to him that he thinks would help with America's increasingly out-of-control energy crisis. He wants to enact a national 55 mile an hour speed limit. And worse still, there are plenty of short-sighted fools who agree with him.

Now, you can call me biased if you will. I admit, I am a speeder. I do not speed as blatantly as I used to. As you can tell from my Rap Sheet (search for Dustin C Weis), I'm a couple more encounters with John Q Law from paying as much for car insurance as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, so I had to curb my speeding a little bit. But I'll be damned if you'll ever catch me going a single mile per hour under the speed limit.

It's not that I'm a reckless driver. CCAP spells it out. I've been a licensed driver for seven years in the state of Wisconsin, and in that time I've racked up three speeding tickets (not counting a couple instances where my speed rendered attempts to apprehend me useless) and ZERO at fault accidents. I've logged over 80,000 miles behind the wheel in that time. I get where I'm going quickly, safely and efficiently.

I just need the adrenaline rush of flying down the highway to keep me awake behind the wheel, and getting there at 55 miles an hour is more likely to induce a nap for me than the Blue Collar Comedy Hour. So if it seems like I take Sen. Warner's proposal as a threat to my own life, it's because I do.

But beyond that, it's also flawed as all hell. I spoke with National Motorists' Association President Jim Baxter today, and he and I agreed Warner's proposal is at best useless and at worst a huge inconvenience and burden on the American people.

First of all, Baxter tells me the interstate systems and highways where the speed limit is over 55 miles an hour make up between three and five percent of the roadways in this country. Of course, they're much busier than most roads, but they still account for less than 20 percent of the miles driven in America. Where most of the GASOLINE gets burned is on the other 80 percent: urban and suburban roads with stop-and-go traffic, idling cars belching exhaust into the air but going nowhere.

In a drive from Memorial High School to West Towne Mall, even a conventional mileage master like my Eclipse gets 15 to 20 miles to the gallon (for the record, I get 32 highway miles to the gallon). Compared to what 25-mile-an-hour zones cost America in gasoline, 65 zones and better amount to drops in the gas can. If anything, Warner should be pushing for Congress to raise the speed limit to 55 on every road, from rural highways on down to winding residential roads through school zones.

Much more ludicrous is Warner's fantasy-world assertion that the miniscule amount of gas that would be saved, if any, would cause the price of gas to drop a tenth of a cent. Having lived in the REAL world for a good portion of my life, I've made a few helpful observations along the way. Among them is that fact that, while American demand for gasoline has dropped over the past year as we cut back on driving, upgrade to more fuel efficient cars or switch to dousing ourselves in biofuels before committing self-immolation in protest of high gas prices, the PRICE has continued to CLIMB.

This is because of a few factors. America is NOT the only draw on the global energy market, and demand worldwide continues to grow. Thanks, China. Also, the price of gas does not function in the traditional supply-and-demand fashion. The oil market is driven by the self-fulfilling prophecy of commodity speculation, and right now there's no more bulletproof investment than oil futures. So the price goes up. So more people want in on the action. So the price goes up. So the people on the ground floor get filthy rich. So the price goes up. Until that circle jerk is addressed, NOTHING we do in this country is going to bring the price of gas down.

Now I agree, from an environmental standpoint alone, this country needs to reduce its oil consumption. But today's cars are not the boats of yesteryear. There is no universal speed at which cars hit an optimum gas mileage. For some cars, 55 miles an hour is the best mileage they will get. Other cars with different aerodynamic configurations, different gear ratios and different engine sizes get better mileage at higher or lower speeds. For instance, my Eclipse racks up its best mileage at between 67 and 70 miles an hour. I would know. I used to drive 45 miles to work every day.

But the worst thing about Warner's approach to the energy crisis is that it's a complacent cop-out. It makes him look like he cares and it distracts the American people from finding a real solution. I certainly don't have the answers. Bio-fuel seems like a temporary fix, but there are uncounted possibilities out there. Naming them all would take too long here, but if Warner's proposed "study group" were to work on that instead of a waste-of-time national speed limit, I'm sure we'd be one step closer to finding them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just jump on Google and search for mpg vs mph and you will find a dozen graphs that show mpg goes down starting at 55 mph. While you may be getting your best gas mileage at 67 to 70 your car would be a aboration.

The problem is with wind pressure on the front of the car regardless of its wind efficiency.

While I am not for going back to a 55 mph speed limit, I do wish you would be honest about the stats for everyone else but you - that they will get their best gas mileage and encourage them to take the extra few minutes on the hiway to stay at 55.

I also view those going over 55 as enemies of the United States and as unpatriotic as anyone without a yellow ribbon magnet.