Saturday, July 5, 2008

National Speed Limit: Been There, Done That

Virginia Senator John Warner is proposing the United States revert to a national speed limit to help save gas. Been there, done that.

In 1974, the US put in place a National Maximum Speed Law , as a part of the 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act. It capped all speed limits at 55 mph (90 km/h). The purpose of this law was to help conserve gas as a result of the 1973 oil crisis. The law was repealed in 1995, which allowed the states to set their own speed limits.

The Department of Energy still says that cars become less fuel efficient at speeds over 60 miles an hour, and that driving at 70 miles an hour can cost drivers about 60 cents a gallon more.

My recollection of the 55 mph speed limit was only of frustration. My perception that it didn’t save me any more gasoline, and it only took me longer to get places. Wouldn’t the additional time on the road offset some of the saving by going a few miles an hour slower?

Senator John Warner and Congress may be completely missing the problem. It’s not about gas. It’s the fact that since the oil crisis in the early 1970s, the United States has done very little to find alternative fuels and vehicles that the masses can afford. I contend that we are not addicted to oil as President Bush and other politicians have said. On the contrary. People would be more than happy to embrace any alternative that they could afford. It’s hard enough for some people to even afford a gas-burning car, much less a hybrid or other alternative energy car that can cost $8-10,000 more.

Senator Warner and the rest of Congress should be working harder to pass laws mandating better fuel efficiency for cars, and finding ways to promote alternative energies. And while I am all for space exploration, wouldn’t it have made more sense for President Bush NOT to have proposed a manned Mars landing, and instead diverted those tax dollars to the research and development of new fuels and vehicles not dependent on oil?

This is all déjà vu all over again, I think. We need our elected officials to start thinking big picture about the future of energy consumption in the United States. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, we also need to start looking at relaxing some drilling restrictions in our own country to help ease the pain that Americans are feeling at the pump. Both are not short-term solutions, but if Congress doesn’t take any action on these issues now, we’ll be sitting here 10,20,30 years later bemoaning the same problems.

So I say Congress should not waste its time on a National Speed Limit, and should spend its time looking for alternative energies and US sources of oil. We have to become independent of foreign oil as quickly as possible, and we can’t, and shouldn’t, tolerate a Congress that moves at a snail's pace.

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