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Can you drive 55?

I’m not sure if the country is emotionally ready to discuss this in a rational manner, but like it or not, it’s out there.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., asked Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to look into what speed limit would provide optimum gasoline efficiency given current technology. He said he wants to know if the administration might support efforts in Congress to require a lower speed limit.

Congress in 1974 set a national 55 mph speed limit because of energy shortages caused by the Arab oil embargo. The speed limit was repealed in 1995 when crude oil dipped to $17 a barrel and gasoline cost $1.10 a gallon.


Warner cited studies that showed the 55 mph speed limit saved 167,000 barrels of oil a day, or 2 percent of the country’s highway fuel consumption, while avoiding up to 4,000 traffic deaths a year.

“Given the significant increase in the number of vehicles on America’s highway system from 1974 to 2008, one could assume that the amount of fuel that could be conserved today is far greater,” Warner wrote Bodman.

Warner asked the department to determine at what speeds vehicles would be most fuel efficient, how much fuel savings would be achieved, and whether it would be reasonable to assume there would be a reduction in prices at the pump if the speed limit were lowered.

There’s no question that lower speed limits would conserve oil; whether that would lead to a reduction in the price of gasoline is less certain, since unlike 1974, the problem here is global demand, not supply. But it would assuredly make for sound public policy on many levels. Will anyone who has a re-election in their future get on board with Sen. Warner? My guess is he’ll be a loner on this, but maybe I’ll be surprised.

And for you kids who don’t remember the 55 MPH era, here is what was its national anthem:

There’s just so much awesomeness packed into that video, I can barely stand it. I must concede that lowering the speed limit would directly correlate with more Hagar-like driving, but that can be dealt with as needed. What’s your opinion of Sen. Warner’s proposal?

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One Comment

  1. mark says:

    Here in Austin I’ve already noticed people driving much slower than usual on both the hiways (35 and Mopac) and on secondary roads.