why the 55 mph speed limit won’t work…

also known as, “why regulations for ambiguous reasons are dumb.”

Senator John Warner (R, VA) has proposed reviving the old national 55 mile-per-hour limit, originally set in the 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act. prior to the 1974 law, speed limits had been set by the states. after the law was repealed in 1995, power to set limits reverted back to the states.

Senator Warner wishes to reinstate the limit for the same reason it was originally created: to save fuel. he (and others) have also averred that a lower speed limit will save lives.

there are several problems with this reasoning – including the fact it didn’t do either the first time.

how does 83 percent of traffic ignoring the limit sound? how does a constant decline in fatalities after the limit was repealed sound? or the massive one percent overall fuel savings?

sounds like there’s not much to save, huh?

in 1973, there was a shortage of fuel. OAPEC declared an embargo against those nations that supported Israel during the Yom Kippur War. this caused an actual shortage of supply and commensurate rise in price.

there is no shortage now: prices are rising due to a variety of factors, but they’re mostly on the demand side of the equation. the developing world, namely China, has a demand for petroleum and is willing to pay for it. this drives prices up because they are willing to bid more per barrel than before the beginning of their explosive growth. this rise in demand (and price) has caused speculators to bid the futures price higher – a logical course of action, as the seemingly consistent upward trend in price promises to reward their investment well. and finally, the US dollar is tanking on the currency market; since oil is priced in dollars, of course the price will go up.

so there’s no real reason to “conserve” oil – we’re not going to run out any time soon.

but more importantly, how is it the government’s business to tell me how much fuel i can use? it’s mine, i bought it with money i earned, i’ll burn it how i want.

following this logic, if i want to save fuel, i can always choose to slow down. most interstate highways have a 45 mph minimum speed limit – so i can get on the road and set the cruise at 55 whenever i want.

the American Trucking Association has asked Congress to consider reinstating a national limit in order to save fuel and reduce their fuel costs. i have to wonder, why don’t they just decide to slow down? why do they need the government to tell them to do so before they do? if a fleet owner is worried about his fuel costs, it’s not that hard to tell his drivers to slow down – it’s not even that hard to install governors and tell-tales on the trucks. it seems like they want our tax dollars (that pay for the Highway Patrol’s services) to pay for the monitoring of their fleet.

oh, wait, our tax dollars already subsidize the trucking industry to a ridiculous extent anyway. what’s a little more?

and all this assumes that slowing down will save fuel anyway.

my Honda, built almost twenty years ago during the reign of the 55 limit, gets approximately the same (actually, slightly better) fuel economy at 80 mph as at 55 mph. so a 55 mph speed limit wouldn’t save me anything. this is mostly due to combined factors of light weight, gear ratios and an engine optimized (over stock) for flow efficiency.

and i’m sure i’m not the only one. there are several cars (the T200 Celica comes to mind) that are most efficient at speeds in excess of 55. much (i dare say most) of the world has speed limits of 100 kph or higher. since the US builds less than 15 percent of the world’s cars, it wouldn’t surprise me if cars built outside the US were intended to have peak efficiency at or near the prevailing speed limits in the country of origin. heck, since the 55 limit has been dead for almost 20 years in the US and the 65 limit for 13, i wouldn’t be surprised if US designed cars were intended for higher efficiency at speeds in excess of the old double nickel.

i guess it’s obvious at this point that i’m unconvinced of the need for legislation intended to “save fuel” or “lower the price of fuel.” the only way for the government to lower gas prices would be remove the excise taxes (or subsidize it, which amounts to the same thing). and that, rabid anti-tax person that i am, would be even more stupid than lowering the speed limit.

just let the market work, folks. the bubble will burst and prices will come down (see: the housing market and dot-com boom/bust). the dollar will go back up, and prices will come down. supply will come up, and prices will come down. the constant rise isn’t going to last forever.

and we still pay less than most of the folks in Europe…

quote of the day:

“Uh, 10-4 Pigpen, what’s yer Twenty?
Australia ?!
Mercy sakes, ain’t nothin’ down there but Tasmanian Devils
An’ them Q-Alla bears.
What’s that?… No Double-Nickel limt?
We gonna be there in a short, Pigpen.
This here’s The Rubber Duck, Ten-Ten, an’ doin’ it to it
Like Pruitt used to do it…to it…
We gone… Bye Bye…” – Bill Fries (a.k.a. “C.W. McCall”), Around The World With The Rubber Duck


One Response to “why the 55 mph speed limit won’t work…”

  1. john Says:

    great post! 55 is a joke that didn’t work the first time and wouldn’t work now. and you’re dead-on about many cars being more efficient at speeds above 55mph.

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