Thursday, April 3, 2008

Have gas prices affected driving behavior?

I have read articles that note people have been driving less, combining errands and even forgoing trips because the gas prices have increased over 25% since the same month the year before. However, my experience has shown that people, while combining trips and carpooling more often, still speed. Since the faster the car goes over 55mph, the greater the decrease in gas mileage, this seems an easy way to cut consumption. Even I, who never likes to go more than 5mph over the speed limit anyway, am hitting that 55 mark when the sign says 55mph, rather than 58mph. My payoff? I hit 30mpg my last fuel fill up. I was happy to see that number as winter has had me in the low- to mid-20s.

My car is a 1997 Dodge Stratus and the revised government estimates state that I can expect 26mpg at highway speeds. Since I mainly drive between 45-55mph, that is the number I use as my benchmark. Hence, my 30mpg looks very good in comparison to the rating for the car.

Yet, if people are concerned about the price of gas, I could not tell on my commute yesterday morning. I took a different route than I normally do and ended up on a two-lane 55mph highway. I was passed by no fewer than five vehicles when I had my cruise control set at 55. As it was a two-lane highway, they could only pass me if there was no oncoming traffic. Once I was passed, they definitely kept their higher rate of speed as the vehicles got further ahead of me.

When I turned onto a second highway, I knew the speed limit went from 55 to 65mph. However, I wait until I see that 65mph sign before accelerating (~2 miles). This behavior was in direct contrast to many other vehicles that eagerly anticipated the speed increase well before the sign. Since I set my cruise control for 65mph, I observed that over 90% of the vehicles passed me as I drove in the right lane of the four-lane split highway. These vehicles were a mix of minivans, cars, SUVs and trucks, many of which get poorer gas mileage than I do. Plus, I found when I speed, I tend to be more impatient and more easily angered by people on the road than if I just set my mind on the speed limit and let them pass me.

The danger is I also get tailgated (or vehicles are closer than I am comfortable with), but I want to maximize the use of my gas rather than get to work two minutes earlier as others seem intent on doing. I cannot change their behavior but I can do my best to be a good citizen of the road. Other drivers would disagree on how good a citizen I am since I do occasionally let loose my contempt for their tailgating or passing me while I drive the speed limit.

I could speculate people are not passing me at quite the same fast clip nor am I passed by every vehicle, but I am not seeing a dramatic effect of rising gas prices on speeding although morning rush hour was more competitive than an hour after the evening commute. My perspective reflects that people are unhappy with gas prices but still enjoy speeding around town and country. Just relax and drive the speed limit. You will get where you want to go and preserve a bit of cash. Is it truly worth the possible few minutes gained by speeding if it costs extra money every day?

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