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Keeping the Plains

Driving 60 mph provides interesting insights while saving fuel

By RON SYLVESTER on 11/25/11 06:00

The thought of slowing down to save gas gave me flashbacks to high school in the mid 70s and having to drive around 55 mph.

Congress forced the lower speed limit on us back then, because of a fear that gasoline was becoming scarce. After all, the price had skyrocketed to 62 cents a gallon, nearly double what it had been just five years before. Rumors of gas reaching $1 a gallon haunted us. We weren’t as concerned then, because we figured the Soviets would kill us all off in some nuclear holocaust and it just wouldn’t matter.

The Soviet Union fell apart, the Cold War ended and $1 gas now seems like a bargain. Despite presidents demanding we decrease our dependence on “foreign oil” our consumption went up, and so did the speed limits. But when an executive with Staples told me a few weeks ago that the company capped its speed on its trucks at 60 mph and saved a ton of fuel, it intrigued me.

I mean, how much fuel could I really save if I slowed down 15 mph on the Kansas Turnpike? Turns out, you save a lot. Fuel consumption drastically increases when you drive faster than 60. Each 5 mph you go over that is like paying an extra 24 cents per gallon of gas, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

I decided to give it a try for one week. My gas mileage on my Chevy HHR went from an average of 23.2 mpg to 29.2 mpg in five days.

A few observations during that week:

•  When you drive 60 mph on the turnpike — where the speed limit is 75 mph — you don’t have to worry about passing people. They pass you.

•  Over-the-road truck drivers are the most courteous drivers. Some trucking companies have been doing this for years, because of the savings and to help the environment.

•  I had to drive to Emporia. Capping my speed at 60, I arrived 10 minutes later than I usually do.

•  With that extra 10 minutes I could make pasta — if the water was already boiling when I arrived.

•  Going 60 is much more enjoyable if you have some great tunes on your iPod.

•  When you’re driving slower than everyone else, it’s much easier to spot the really scary drivers. They’re the ones who don’t realize they’re going faster than you until they are on your bumper then swerve at the last minute to pass.

•  During this particular week, most of them drove Mustangs.

•  Surprisingly, it took me only an extra 20 minutes to drive from Kansas City to Wichita.

I could use that time to watch a most of a television sitcom, if I fast-forwarded through the commercials.

•  There’s really only one TV sitcom I like, and if I miss it I can watch it online.

Meanwhile, in over two days, I drove from Wichita to Topeka, drove around Topeka, drove to Kansas City, drove around Kansas City, then returned to Wichita. All that took less than one tank of gas.

I even had an eighth of a tank left over after I returned. I drove to work and back for two more days before I had to fill up again.

By some estimates, I could I save more than $900 a year driving this way.

Just don’t try to talk to your spouse about it. They will make fun of you.

“You’re talking about gas prices and gas mileage,” my wife told me during the experiment. “The next thing you know, you’ll be watching the Weather Channel for entertainment.”

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