GHSA: Slowing Down on Highway Saves Gas (Money), Lives

As millions of Americans take to the roadways for the busy Memorial Day Weekend ahead, the Governors Highway Safety Association reminds drivers that slowing down will not only reduce the amount of money they have to spend on gas, but also could save their life. According to the Department of Energy, aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration, and braking) can lower gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and 5 percent 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 $0.20 per gallon for gas.

But GHSA says that despite the benefits of slowing down, the public has not yet gotten the message. According to an informal GHSA survey of state highway safety agencies, only Wisconsin reports a noticeable trend of reduced speeds as a result of high gas prices. Wisconsin officials report that while traffic volume is down slightly, speeds are also down, directly impacting both the frequency and seriousness of crashes across the entire state. State troopers report 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.

In addition to helping fight the cost of record-high gas prices, slowing down also increases the likelihood of surviving a crash. 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. GHSA cites a 2005 study that showed even a small reduction in speed can have a big impact on lives saved. In the report, published in the Transportation Research Record, author Rune Elvik found that a 1 percent decrease in travel speed reduces injury crashes by about 2 percent, serious injury crashes by about 3 percent, and fatal crashes by about 4 percent. GHSA says these reductions are critically needed as speeding remains a serious highway safety problem--in 2006, nearly 13,500 people died in speed-related crashes.

"Nationally, GHSA members report that we are not seeing any noticeable decreases in travel speeds by passenger vehicles," said GHSA Chairman Christopher J. Murphy. "However, given the extremely high gas prices and life-saving benefits of slowing down, we urge the public to ease off the accelerator." For tips on improving gas mileage, visit DOE's Web site at www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/driveHabits.shtml or download AAA's Gas Watcher's Guide, www.aaanewsroom.net/Assets/Files/20078281615200.GasWatchersGuide2007.pdf.

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