People aren’t slowing down

June 16, 2008

I was driving on local freeways this weekend, and I thought I would drive the speed limit (65 to 70 miles per hour, so you know this is the USA). People have been driving an average of around 80 mph on one local freeway in the past. With the political furor over $4 a gallon gasoline and stories of people having to give up their morning lattes to pay for their commute from the suburbs, surely people who take some measures to reduce their fuel costs. Well, of course not. I was as alone as a wallflower standing in the corner at a party. Now, people are having to give up luxuries in order to afford to fill up their Hummers and Escalades. So why won’t people slow down to save what I’ve read would be 20-30% on fuel usage?

  1. “People believe they have a God given right to drive the way they want.” That’s not a completely good explanation, since if so they would drive like Germans. And Germans pay twice as much for fuel.
  2. “People are in a hurry, and are willing to sacrifice the extra cost of fuel to get somewhere faster.” People are in a hurry, and every year the length of commutes (not to mention the frequency of trips to get such things as lattes) are steadlily increasing. But people aren’t really “Economic Men” that make rational decisions on their use of resources. People can be rational on occasion, but they aren’t so good at juggling the math to figure things out in such detail.
  3. “We are entitled to burn as much gas as we want.” I don’t know if that in itself explains people not slowing down as much as explaining the larger picture. We are #1 after all, until we aren’t.
  4. “My speed has nothing to do with fuel economy.” There are a lot of people who believe this. The idea that increased resistance from the atmosphere with increased speed doesn’t compute with millions of people.
  5. “The speed limit is too slow, I can’t stand to drive that slow and I don’t care.” This is an emotional argument, acted out emotionally. This is as good as an explanation as any.
  6. “People aren’t aware that they could save a significant amount of fuel by driving slower.” Maybe, see point #4. They are driving less, according to the statistics, a few trying to the use the largely inadequate transit systems in their cities. It is imaginably hard to think in terms of saving fuel by behavior except to just stop driving, since our mentality is shaped by cheap gas –  the evidence is around you, McMansions, Hummers and other SUVs, etc.
  7. “Nobody else is slowing down, why should I, or I don’t feel comfortable doing something that nobody else is doing.” Humans have a herd mentality, it’s in our genes. Maybe this is as good an explanation as anything.



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