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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Autos

Questioning driving tenets

There’s no shortage of driving tenets — many of them are meritorious.  The flow of these principles is continuous, and I perpetuate it.  I believe in proven tenets like maintaining your vehicle, knowing road rules, reducing distraction, avoiding anger and driving defensively. 

But certain other driving “truths” have fewer legs to stand upon.  In my opinion, facts don’t support theories touting ideas that lower speeds are inherently safer or that Ethanol use effectively lowers our crude oil consumption

A “go with the flow” approach works well for a safe speed.  For most driving, the majority of traffic is operating at a rate 2-5 mph over the posted limits.  If that were the norm, few vehicles would be going faster or slower than that.  Differential of speed is one of the main crash causers.

Currently, I think most posted speeds are reasonable — I didn’t feel that way in 1973 when mandated 55 mph limits were imposed upon freeways nationwide.  A review of history implies that this absurdly low speed was not any safer than today’s 70-75 mph limits.

A Wall Street Journal article explains that the losses incurred by auto insurance companies have been declining since 55 mph speed limits were abandoned.  It’s interesting that when the federal government gave up on its 55 mph folly and returned speed limit authority to the states, auto insurance losses continued to decline. 

The 55 mph speed limit disrupted normal traffic flow, affected lane discipline and encouraged traffic to move to less safe highways.  Federal incentives caused an allocation of enforcement resources to purposes that were counter-productive to public safety needs.  Enforcement of the 55 mph speed limit took precedence over helping stranded motorists, identifying impaired drivers, controlling traffic in construction zones and targeting truly dangerous drivers.

The insurance industry opposed repeal of the 55 mph speed limit, predicting consequential mayhem in the streets and increases in auto insurance costs.  Organizations funded by insurance companies even claimed that upping the 55 mph speed limit would result in at least 6400 additional fatalities annually.  It didn't happen.

In 1996 the states resumed total control of their speed limits and within two years the vast majority had increased their highest speed limits. A degree of balance has returned to enforcement priorities, traffic is moving more smoothly, lane discipline is being given more publicity, and drivers are leaving less safe two lane highways for the convenience and speed of Interstates.  Still, many lobby to lower freeway limits — statistics don’t warrant it.

Better highways and better cars have certainly improved highway safety and indirectly reduced certain insurance costs. But don’t sell the benefits of rational speed limits short. Not only are they more comfortable and more efficient, they are also safer.

Most gasoline we use contains 10% Ethanol and in that mixture our vehicles run at about 15% reduced efficiency.  Plus, the Federal government has spent billions on Ethanol plants that will produce E85, an 85% dilution.  That requires a new pump at the filling station and new vehicles designed to run on the mix.

By the numbers, Ethanol is not a practical method of fuel conservation. A great deal of time, effort and money go into producing Ethanol, which ultimately contains only two-thirds of the energy contained in regular gasoline. It’s also injurious to older vehicles with carburetors and mechanical fuel pumps — even causing fires in classic vehicles.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.