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


Speed tolerance waning

Last week I wrote of the advantages of smooth driving.  Better fuel economy and extended vehicle life are among those benefitsNow I am hearing growing disapproval of drivers who erratically “mash the gas” and demonstrate excess speed, so not aggravating others is another good side effect of a smooth approach.

Drivers’ pet peeves are somewhat universal.  For example, aggravation over tailgating is typically expressed in driver discussions.  Motorists also readily offer negative opinions of cell phone use, turn signal nonuse, slowpokes, litterbugs and left-lane huggers.

But now I’m hearing increased disapproval of lead-foot drivers.  This swelling negativity is aimed at drivers who speed past others, race through neighborhoods, or are simply judged to be driving too fast at a given time.

I have always believed that these drivers were hurting mainly themselves through needless vehicle component wear, reduced fuel efficiency, and a foolish appearance.  In this “green” era, whether for environmental impetus or not, tolerance for that driving style is waning.

I have often expressed wonderment over those who race from green lights only to be halted by the next red ones.  But lately, in conversations and emails, I am hearing increasing condemnation of this aggressive driving practice and its resulting fuel waste.

I’ve always wondered what drivers who speed from one obstacle to another — stop lights, pedestrian crossings, slower vehicles — are thinking.  Their overall progress in traffic shows no advantage, and the increased gas bill is somewhat significant. Passing on a two-laner or entering the freeway warrant a “heavy pedal,” but it’s usually unnecessary.

There is a further analytical point with validity.  The price we all pay for fuel is partially predicated upon demand.  If we reduce that demand, we improve our chance of minimizing price hikes.  The commentary on our individual behavioral effect on “global supply” and “sustainability” will increase from now on.

There are other ways to squander fuel besides aggressive driving, but automotive experts agree it is the “best” way.  Improper tire inflation, dirty filters, and poor state of engine tuning all play roles in fuel usage, but not to the degree of a heavy foot applied to the accelerator pedal.

I’m sure there are drivers who wouldn’t consider wasting fuel with dirty oil, a clogged air filter and half-flat tires, but think nothing of “flooring it” causing similar waste.

Statistical data reveals that maintenance items might account for a 10 to 12 percent mileage fluctuation, but aggressive driving style can reduce fuel efficiency by as much as 30 percent.  Over the years, while driving vehicles with on-board instant and average mile-per-gallon digital computer readouts, my own experimentation validates those claims.

For less efficient vehicles, it is a certainty.  A vehicle that attains 9-11 mpg when driven aggressively over a stop-and-go route (typical SUV) will likely attain 13-15 mpg with a more sensible approach.  As discussed last week, the sensible approach simply employs gentle, steady acceleration and an “eagle” eye on traffic ahead to avoid harsh braking.  Even a highly efficient vehicle’s mileage will improve with a smooth style that avoids using the gas pedal like an on/off switch.

The collective effect of America’s vehicle fleet reducing consumption by even 10 percent would have a profound effect.  With inevitable rising costs and shortages of fuel in our future, improving our driving efficiency is worthy of consideration.  It can become automatic once the lead-foot habit is replaced with a feather-foot habit.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at