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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Full-throttle not a bad thing

Many drivers use a light touch on the “gas” pedal for fuel savings.  Common sense tells us that lighter accelerator pedal application translates to less fuel usage — field tests bear it out.  I have even suggested that aggressive drivers who turn conservative might improve their fuel economy by 30 percent.  A “feather-foot” can be achieved by imagining an egg betwixt your shoe-sole and the go-pedal — it not only achieves maximum economy, but reduces vehicle wear.

But when I follow a car onto the freeway at a too-slow speed of 30 mph, it reminds me that there are occasions to break that imaginary egg and floor it.  The few seconds it takes to merge with 60 mph traffic is no time to economize.  That momentary abandonment of the “gentle-touch” rule will hardly affect your overall fuel consumption.

With an adequate on-ramp, or if your car has over 300 horsepower, you may be able to reach 60 mph without stomping on the gas.  On most ramps with average vehicles however, the only way to match the speed of the traffic you are about to enter is to apply pedal-to-the-metal (or carpet).  Entering freeway flow at a lesser speed is downright dangerous and saving fuel is not an adequate excuse for doing so.

When you are accelerating and making your final check for your freeway space, though, beware of a potential hazard:  the driver who stops at the top of the ramp.  I’ve encountered this and it’s a shocker when you are about up to speed.  It is ultimately up to the entering traffic to yield right of way, but it is rare when a moving merge cannot be accomplished via timing and cooperation with freeway traffic.

Another occasion I suggest gas-gulping foot-feed matting is during your pass on a two-lane highway.  Most passing opportunities offer minimal sight distance, so the safest pass is an expedient one.

Assuming a bare and dry road surface, once you encounter a clear, straight zone, it’s best to use all of the power at your disposal to get by slower vehicles quickly.  In most states, a little-known law allows and even encourages this practice.

In Washington, RCW 46.61.425 states, “a person following a vehicle driving at less than the legal maximum speed and desiring to pass such vehicle may exceed the speed limit, subject to the provisions of RCW 46.61.120 [which requires no interfering oncoming traffic and returning to lane within 200 feet of that traffic] on highways having only one lane of traffic in each direction, at only such a speed and for only such a distance as is necessary to complete the pass with a reasonable margin of safety.”

So you can get on the gas and not worry about exceeding the posted limit while passing.  I say the quicker the better in safely performing a highway pass — vehicles with quick acceleration capabilities, like motorcycles, have a decided advantage in this regard.  Police officers are well aware of the provision in the law allowing the fast pass — just remember that they are also aware of the requirement to return to the posted speed as soon as practical after returning to your lane.

Periodic full throttle operation has a side benefit of helping to clear your engine’s combustion chamber of carbon deposit buildup too, so you don’t have to feel too badly about the occasional fuel “waste.”

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at