Speier proposes 60 mph speed limit

July 10, 2008 11:37:38 PM PDT
Drivers can save money during the fuel crisis by driving more slowly. But now, California's newest member of Congress is pushing for a national speed limit of 60 mph.

In 1974, the speed limit dropped down to 55 mph to cope with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' (OPEC) oil embargo. It went back up to 65 mph in 1995 when oil was $17 per barrel.

Senator John Warner has asked the Energy Secretary to look into how much oil Americans would save with a lower speed limit. Past studies show that reduction from 65 mph to 55 mph saved 167,000 barrels of oil a day, 2 percent of America's consumption back then, according to Warner.

But Congresswoman Jackie Speier is not waiting for studies, she wants to go ahead with a reduction to 60 mph right now.

There is no doubt that slowing down saves fuel, according to AAA.

"The optimal speed for cars to get the best fuel economy they can has been found to be right around 40 to 50 mph," AAA spokesperson Michael Geeser said.

Fuel efficiency drops off rapidly after 60 mph, according to the Energy Department.

U.C. Berkeley professor Richard Abrams is an expert on modern American history and energy economics. Lowering the speed limit in the 1970s was effective at leveling off gas prices, but Abrams doubts it would work now, he said.

"Americans are not going to surrender their right to go 80 mph on the highways very quickly," Abrams said. "We're not willing to sacrifice anything, we haven't been asked to sacrifice anything."

Steve Carvalho's parents have been gas station owners for 62 years. They remember when gas cost 23 cents per gallon in the early 1950s and when it cost $1.21 in 1995.

"It would increase the miles per gallon on a car," Carvalho said. "I don't think the American public, especially in the Bay Area would be able to control themselves to go 60 mph."

Friday, President Bush will meet with his economic team at the Energy Department. The topic: how to bring down the price of gas.


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