Should The U.S. Lower Speed Limits In Order To Curtail Fuel Consumption?

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Speed Limit 55

Speed Limit 55

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The recent spike in oil prices has got the whole world focused on fuel consumption, so much so in some parts that countries are lowering their national speed limits in an effort to reduce their national fuel consumption levels.

One such country is Spain, which reduced its speed limit for cars from 75 mph to 68 mph.

The move is expected to save roughly 28.6 million barrels of oil annually, worth an estimated $3.2 billion at current prices.

Now ConsumerReports has posted the question: “should the same happen here?”

Using a 2005 Toyota Camry as an example, the influential magazine calculated that slowing down from 65 mph to just 55 mph raises the fuel economy of the vehicle from 35 mpg to 40 mpg.

It wouldn't be the first time lower speed limits were imposed in an attempt to save fuel during an energy crunch, but it's still not clear that the lower speed limits actually achieve their stated goals.

In 1974 the U.S. set a national speed limit of 60 mph, a policy which lasted until 1995. The price of oil had a large role in the institution and eventual repeal of the policy, but some advocates also played up the safety angle of the move. The problem with reducing speed limits is that reality and theory do not align well.

According to a NHTSA study from 1992, during the height of the last 60 mph national limit period, neither raising nor lowering the speed limit had any significant effect on the speed of traffic. In fact the only significant change noted by the study was the increase in speeding tickets issued when the speed limit fell too low.

So we post the question to you, should the national speed limit be lowered or is this a case of too much government intervention? Feel free to leave your responses in the comments section below.

[ConsumerReports via InsideLine]


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Comments (7)
  1. I'd like to see the speed for trucks reduced to 55mph, though I'd like to see that for safety reasons as much as the environmental impact. I'm fed up of being passed by them doing 70+ in weather where you'd measure stopping distances with a calendar.

  2. Dumb plan. The government is the problem, not the solution. The government just work in meat ax mode, not addressing the real issue... Does health care come to mind? There is vetted data that indicates that lowering the speed limit saves gasoline.

  3. By the way, you don't need a law for this. You can actually drive 55 now. I did it for two years on a 4 lane 65 mpg highway. It worked surprisingly well. Summer MPG on my Corolla was 45 MPG. Also, on a 4 lane road, I didn't seem to be pissing people off. On 2 lane roads it is much more of a problem.

  4. The best solution is for the driver to make the decision to drive slower on his/her own. Government needs to stay out of the decision. If local and state governments would do a better job of enforcing the present speed limits, all drivers would be more inclined to stay within them. As it is most drivers will driver anywhere from 10 miles per hour and up over the posted speed limit regardless of where the limit is posted.
    Some people will make the decision based on economics. Either because they don't like paying fines for speeding or because they start to realizing how much extra it is costing them in fuel cost. IMO.

  5. Yes, but there also needs to be a stick. If you get caught exceeding ANY speed limit, judges should govern max. speed on the speeding car (family car = everybody has to live with it) to 60 mph. AND the offending driver gets issued a 60 mph limited license (first offense, permanent), 45 mph second offense (3 years rolling), 30 mph 3rd offense (3 years, rolling). Then a NEV looks pretty good...

  6. Interesting. My 2004 Nissan Sentra gets 30 mpg. In traffic, 30 mpg maybe slightly less. After a round trip totaling 16 hours driving, through mountains and flat areas, no matter my speed, (limit or over) I was still managing 30 mpg between fill ups at 300 miles. Speeds ranged from 55 to 80, average speed 75. Maybe in large SUV's or if you have a stick, driving slower may save you fuel, but it wont help me any.

  7. Yes just slow down. I have a long commute to work. All freeway miles. If I drive 75 - 80 I get 24 - 27 mpg. If I drive 60 - 70 I get 30 - 34 mpg and if I drive 55 I get around 32 - 36mpg. It definitely makes a difference. I drive a 93 subaru impreza hatch. Also, I had an 08 Subaru WRX for a year that was rated at 25 mpg Highway but I consistently could get 32 - 40mpg when doing 60mph. Obviously 32 was more common in the winter and 40 in the summer.

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