Why not lower the speed limit?

The difficult reality of the current painful and often frightening increase in the price of oil hits each one of us every day. Whether it’s filling your gas tank, going to the grocery store, dealing with vendors, or even planning a vacation, the $140-plus price of a barrel of oil is forcing us to accept a new view of the world, whether we want to or not.

The United States has not experienced anything like this in more than 30 years, during the oil crises of the ‘70s. At the time it was thought the United States would finally come to grips with its seemingly unquenchable thirst for oil, particularly foreign oil. Unfortunately, like any addict, when conditions eased, we went right back to our oil-addled ways, bringing us to the point where we are today – which is to say, where we started more than 30 years ago.

In their efforts to grab a piece of the issue, politicians of all stripes have been raising their voices with all kinds of ideas aimed at addressing the skyrocketing cost of oil. Exploration in previously off-limits areas of Alaska and offshore, huge financial prizes to spark development of a breakthrough car battery, putting restrictions on investors, new tax credits, tax cuts and other incentives. Not one of these proposals – or any of the legions of others that have emerged from the mouths of most national politicians – would have an immediate effect on the direction of oil prices or our wasteful use of the product.

There is something the United States could do that would have an almost immediate effect, not only on our ability to dramatically reduce the use of oil, but also very likely immediately reduce the price of oil. As President Nixon did in 1974, we should lower the speed limit. Nixon lowered it to 55 mph, and it resulted in immediate reductions in the amount of oil the nation required. Even lowering the speed limit to 60 today would result in substantial savings.

According to the Department of Energy’s fueleconomy.gov Web site, gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. In fact, according to the site, for each 5 miles per hour driven over 60 mph, the motorist is using enough extra gasoline that essentially he or she is paying an additional 30 cents per gallon.

So even if the nation were to reduce the speed limit to 60, we would automatically start reducing the use of oil. And the reduction would send an instant message to the oil markets that the world’s biggest consumer of oil will no longer require as much. The price of a barrel would fall in response, helpful to U.S. industries of all sorts.

The longer the nation waits for our elected officials, from the president on down, to actually do something about this current energy crisis, the more worrisome it becomes. Lowering the speed limit would be a positive, beneficial and big step in the right direction.