Trucks at Work
Throttling back

Throttling back

Given the extremely high gas prices and life-saving benefits of slowing down, we urge the public to ease off the accelerator.” -Christopher J. Murphy, chairman, Governors Highway Safety Association

Truckers large and small are doing it ... but the general public isn‘t. And therein lies the problem we‘re going to face in terms of trying to get motorists in this country to come together in the name of highway safety and energy security.

The issue is, of course, vehicle speed. As we all know, slowing down to 60 mph or even 55 mph (which, if we strain to look through the fog of history, used to be the speed limit for ALL highways in this nation 14 years ago or so) not only saves lives, it saves on fuel ... big time. For cars and light trucks typically get their best fuel economy around 55 to 60 mph on the highway. Above that, physics takes over, and it costs you more fuel to overcome the resistance of the air around you.


With trucks, it‘s a little different - but not much more. OEMs spent the last several years tweaking aerodynamics, engine sweet spots, gears, and axle ratios to give fleets good fuel economy between 60 and 65 mph. But again, above that number, fuel efficiency goes overboard in a hurry. With diesel now well over $4 a gallon throughout much of the U.S. (and approaching $5 in California!) saving fuel by slowing down means major bucks.

Take Con-way Truckload, for example. They just finished reducing the maximum governed speed of its 2,700-tractor fleet from 70 to 65 mph - an effort that started back in November 2007 and just finished up this April. By adjusting its fleet to run at the lower maximum highway speed, the company expects to save 2.8 million gallons of diesel fuel per year. At $4 a gallon, you‘re talking about saving $11.2 million smackers annually, folks.


(Con-way Truckload's speed reduction efforts are going to save it some big, big money over time.)

“Lowering our speed governors is a major step for us, and one of many that we‘re taking toward conserving fuel and supporting Con-way‘s enterprise-wide sustainability initiative,” said Herb Schmidt, president, Con-way Truckload.

Yet the message isn‘t getting to the four-wheelers out there. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), aggressive driving - speeding, rapid acceleration and braking - can lower gas mileage by 33% at highway speeds and 5% around town. The agency also estimates that, as a rule of thumb, drivers can assume that each 5 mph they drive above 60 mph is like paying an additional 20 cents per gallon for gas.

But despite the benefits of slowing down, the public has not yet gotten the message, according to an informal poll conducted by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). A survey of state highway safety agencies by GSHA found that only Wisconsin reports a noticeable trend of reduced speeds as a result of high gas prices.

It‘s worthy to note, too, that Wisconsin state troopers told GSHA that speeds along the freeways are moderating especially with commercial vehicles, many of which have slowed to travel at or even below the speed limit. A handful of other states note the reduced speed of commercial vehicles, likely resulting from more trucking companies setting policies that require their drivers to stay below a set speed, such as 67 mph. (And the public still says TRUCKERS are the problem, do they?)


(Props are coming from Wisconsin's state troopers for the efforts of truckers to slow down.)

In addition to helping fight the cost of record-high gas prices, slowing down also increases the likelihood of surviving a crash, GSHA stressed. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in a high-speed crash, a passenger vehicle is subjected to forces so severe that the vehicle structure cannot withstand the impact of the crash and maintain survival space in the occupant compartment.

And in a 2005 report, published in the Transportation Research Record, author Rune Elvik found that just a 1% decrease in travel speed reduces injury crashes by about 2%, serious injury crashes by about 3% and fatal crashes by about 4 percent. These reductions are critically needed, as speeding remains a serious highway safety problem, said GSHA, noting that nearly 13,500 people died in speed-related crashes in 2006.

It shows that we still have a long way to go in terms of getting folks to slow down out there on the road - but not so much with truckers. Isn‘t it interesting that truckers are the ones changing their habits to adjust to new economic realities, while the average motorist is not? You won‘t see that in the papers, I guarantee you.