Opinion

Virginia Sen. Warner likes idea of 55 mph speed limits | Adele Ferguson

Like It Is

Response to my suggestion that we return to the 55 miles per hour national speed limit we had from 1974 to 1995 to conserve gasoline was practically nil so I was pleased to hear over the radio that Sen. John Warner of Virginia had written Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman about the same thing.

I saw nothing about it in the five daily newspapers I take so I called Sen. Warner’s office and got a copy of the July 3 letter.

Before I tell you about that, the one letter I received from a reader was from Bert J. Lauderback of Port Angeles who said I was full of a word that just missed being one of George Carlin’s seven words you can’t say on television.

Well, half of it made the list.

Mr. Lauderback is 79, has driven a variety of cars all his life and questioned other drivers about their fuel consumption and finds that it’s best at 60 mph.

His solution to the high cost of gasoline is to roll it back to $2 a gallon and freeze the price, “like Nixon did.”

I don’t remember Nixon doing that but I don’t doubt it.

Also, in the Wall Street Journal’s “Me and My Car” column, a reader said he set his cruise control at 50 or 55 mph on highways and asked whether slower speed really translates into better mileage.

Columnist Jonathan Welsh replied that he probably was saving fuel but 50 mph was incredibly slow by today’s highway standards, inspiring road rage.

He suggested 55 mph or 60 mph as “still an efficient speed for many vehicles.”

Rush Limbaugh snarled that 55 mph provided just that much more time for the crumb crunchers in the back seat to say, “Are we there yet?”

What generated Sen. Warner’s letter to Secretary Bodman, he wrote, was that while individuals were trying to reduce gas consumption through driving less, altering daily routines and canceling vacation plans, the federal government was doing little or nothing.

Warner personally supports permitting his state to explore and drill for oil offshore if it desires, but new technologies and sources won’t provide relief for years to come.

The Senate passed a sense-of-the-Senate resolution urging the President to require all federal departments and agencies to reduce their daily consumption of gas if only in a small way.

Nothing has come of it, however, so he suggested Congress should make it mandatory.

Another concept, he said, saved 167,000 barrels of oil a day, roughly 2 percent of total U.S. usage, and up to 4,000 lives per year from highway accidents.

Engineering data cited shows that fuel efficiency decreases rapidly above 60 mph. For every 5 mph an individual drives over 60, he will pay an extra 30 cents per gallon in fuel costs.

So, Sen. Warner asked Secretary Bodman these questions:

1. Given technological improvements since 1974, at what speed is the typical vehicle most fuel efficient?

2. If a national speed limit were enacted, what would be total fuel savings, and what would be the savings for the average driver?

3. How many fewer barrels of oil a day would Americans consume? Would there be a reduction in price at the pump, and what ranges would cost reductions be?

4. If the feds reduced their oil consumption as asked, how many barrels of oil might be saved?

Congress will be considering all its options, said Sen. Warner, who reminded Secretary Bodman that, years ago, the 55 mph speed limit, officially known as the Emergency Energy Conservation Act, “worked.”

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