Truckers Back Speed Limit

In my opinion, one of the quickest ways to reduce our oil consumption in the U.S. is by lowering the speed limits. I suggested this in an essay a couple of years ago: I Can Drive 55. There were a fair number of negative comments regarding that essay from people who didn’t want to be inconvenienced in this way. For me, I prefer the inconvenience now of taking 5 extra minutes to get somewhere over simply not having the oil later on.

Over at Beyond the Barrel, Marianne Lavelle reports that some of the big trucking companies are ready to embrace lower speed limits:

Truckers Back a National 65-mph Speed Limit

A highway slowdown has begun in response to high energy prices—and the big trucking companies are leading the way. Con-Way Freight, one of the nation’s largest trucking firms with 8,500 rigs, has announced it is turning back the electronic speed limiters in its entire fleet from 65 miles per hour to 62 mph.

The company estimates that by keeping its drivers below that speed, it will save 3.2 million gallons of diesel fuel a year, while eliminating 72 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions—the equivalent of removing 7,300 automobiles from the nation’s highways. And with diesel fuel at the current price of about $4 per gallon, Con-Way will be saving $12.8 million per year, a significant figure for a company that saw its operating income drop 27 percent last year to $235 million.

She notes that the move isn’t embraced by all truckers, but I think high gas prices will continue to dictate responses like this.

I am not sure if the airline industry has any viable options for reducing their fuel bills, but they are another industry in trouble from higher oil prices. I had read recently that with oil at $50/bbl, they were very profitable. With oil at $100/bbl, all of their profits were gone. They are in a tough spot; higher ticket prices will reduce demand, but the current ticket prices are losing them money. This is akin to the situation with oil refiners; with oil at $100/bbl, it is tough to pass on price increases and maintain decent margins.

42 thoughts on “Truckers Back Speed Limit”

  1. Hi Robert,
    I can’t seem to find a contact email so post it here, only slightly OT.

    The guys at New Energy and Fuel have a link to this slick presentation by the American Petroleum Institute that tells us what “Big Oil” really is about. Sounds a bit defensive at times but worth a look.

    The post:

    The presentation (PDF):


  2. I am a pilot and aircraft owner, well, of small planes. There is definitely an economy cruise for airplanes just like in automobiles. All aircraft have a fuel flow rate that will maximize economy and distance. For mine, I normal cruise at 75% power (gets me around 665 miles max). At 55% power I can go 850 miles (max economy). I cant tell you if pilots of the jets already cruise at economy speed, or try to get there as fast as possible, but most small airplanes are generally flying at 65-75% power (they consume very little to begin with compared to the overall market).

  3. I dont know all the angles about the repeat of reducing highway speeds to 55 mph (other than the states are going to get a windfall in speeding ticket revenue), but if they reduce it to 55, it just means I’ll be flying more, and driving less. Flying either commercially or privately is not as efficient as driving.

  4. Driving 55 will save gas and lives.
    Maybe a good short-term fix.
    I would prefer to see PHEVs, and the new bio-gasoline from Shell in the long run.
    and even shale oil from Shell….
    I don’t think we have an energy crisis….if we shift motor vehicles to PHEVs, then we have electricity demand, and not liquid fuel demand….carcking the code on electrical demand is easy…build a few more power plants, fired by solar, wind, nuke, geothermal….

  5. The guys at New Energy and Fuel have a link to this slick presentation by the American Petroleum Institute that tells us what “Big Oil” really is about.

    Yeah, I have been sent those links, and intend to post them. Just haven’t had a chance to write a post around the links. I am flying back to Amsterdam tomorrow, so it will probably be a couple more days before I can post something on this.

    Thanks, RR

  6. Boy, these behavioral modifications are a pretty slippery slope. How does this differ from telling people they can’t drive on interstate highways with only a single person in the car? Or limit the speed limit on gas guzzlers only? Or how about if you get a ticket if your tire pressure is >5psi below the factory recommendation (a notorious fuel waster)? We can’t even agree to raise mileage standards by a modest amount and you want to legislate that a Prius or GTI owner has to idle on the bumper of an Escalade …hey, maybe that’s not such a bad idea: mandatory drafting! NOW you’re talking!

  7. Clearly you people are not old enough to remember the last time they tried this idiocy.

    I shall hold my tongue about the stupidity of this nonsense, until such time, if ever, as I regain my self control, and purge myself of the bad memories of the the Jimmy Carter years.

  8. sorry if this a dup, commenting is acting weird

    ryan turner wrote:
    “””Flying either commercially or privately is not as efficient as driving.”””

    that might not be true. From Ask the Pilot on Salon, the Pilot writes:

    “””As for fuel consumption, let’s look first at a short trip, from New York to Boston and back again. This flight is slightly under an hour in each direction. A typical aircraft on such a route, an Airbus A320, will consume somewhere around 10,000 pounds or 1,500 gallons of jet fuel over the course of the round trip. Assuming 140 passengers, that’s 71 pounds of fuel, or just over 10 gallons per person. A lone occupant making the same trip by car would consume twice those amounts.”””

    I assume he is writing about a 20 mpg car which means you would need at least a 40 mpg vehicle to reach parity with an aircraft.

    The one calculation I haven’t seen done yet is the amount of energy consumed by a public transit system expressed in terms of total energy use per passenger carried (total miles per day/number passengers carried per day). how efficient would a car have to be to reach parity?

  9. “A lone occupant making the same trip by car would consume twice those amounts.”

    There is the flaw in the logic. My data is based on full occupancy of a 4 person car averaging around 25 mpg (being very generous). You cannot quote a per passenger rate for a fully seated jet without the per passenger rate for a fully loaded cars. If you drive across country with 4 people in a car, you will burn much less fuel than if that same family flew.

    I guess it depends on how you crunch the numbers. If it is just you flying, sure. Otherwise you’ll start to lose the efficiency.

    I almost ALWAYS fly with 4 people in the airplane (I cant stand wasting gas and flying just myself anywhere)

  10. I commute to work every day with my airplane (Mooney 201 with turbo) from Phoenix to Tucson. I operate my plane lean of peak at 8 GPH. At this power setting my true airspeed is 160 MPH, that’s 20 MPG, same as my truck (Toyota Tacoma).

    I have a device called a Scan Gauge II connected to my truck that gives my mileage info from the ECM. One day driving to Tucson from Phoenix I did a study of speed vs mileage. The road to Tucson is fairly flat – 1000′ rise in 100mi – and the wind situation is fairly constant. I would set a speed on the cruse control and then reset the ScanGauge, let it aquire data for 5 miles and then read the avarage MPG.

    85 MPH – 17.9 MPG
    75 MPH – 19.5 MPG
    65 MPH – 21.0 MPG
    55 MPH – 22.5 MPG
    45 MPH – 24.1 MPG


    At 45 MPH I saw a few birds fly by inside a few cars.

  11. “How does this differ from telling people they can’t drive on interstate highways with only a single person in the car?”

    One could say the same about any law, no?

  12. Ryan, the capacity of an Airbus A320 is 150 people, so your numbers are off by more than a factor of 2. It is commendable that you would only drive with 4 people in your car, but obviously this is very unusual; most long trips are made by individuals for business. So flying *is* generally more fuel-efficient than driving, unless you get at least 40 person-miles per gallon. Compared to a full plane, you need 80+ p-mi/gal. It’s certainly safer!

    Don’t forget that video conferencing is ~1,000,000 times more energy efficient!

  13. Ryan,

    Flying saves me about 20 min. each way. The biggest thing is that flying is such a no brainer (sorry all you big watch guys) You just take off, point it home and wait to get there. It is so much less stressful then driving.

    I have my A&P so it saves me a lot on maintenance. I can still get gas for $3.80/gal, so all in all it costs about the same as driving.

    I have been doing it for 18 years. I reciently made my 2000th trip to Tucson.

  14. According to
    * New aircraft are 70% more fuel efficient than 40 years ago and 20% better than 10 years ago.
    * Airlines are aiming for a further 25% fuel efficiency improvement by 2020.
    * Modern aircraft achieve fuel efficiencies of 3.5 litres per 100 passenger km.
    * The A380 and B787 are aiming for 3 litres per 100 passenger km – better than a compact car!

    IATA airlines improved their fuel efficiency by 5% in 2004-2005 alone.

    Potential Fuel Savings from Air Traffic Management
    ATM enhancements could improve fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions by up to 12%.

    That comment on 3 liters per 100 passenger km being better than a compact car probably assumes 1 person in the car, or at most 2.

    Looks like the airline industry has been making more fuel efficiency improvements than the US automobile industry.

  15. If we figure 1000 highway hours per truck year, the 5% speed reduction causes 8400 * 50 = 420,000 extra driver hours per year. At $20/hour that’s $8.4m which offsets 2/3rds of the 12.8m fuel savings. Still a net win, and I’m happy to see money go to drivers instead of mullahs. At these fuel prices, though, trucks are fighting a losing battle vs. rail.

    Fatman, you can’t blame Carter for 55 mph. Nixon signed that law. It lasted all the way through Ford and Carter and almost all the way through Reagan before being watered down after oil prices crashed. It was finally repealed during Clinton’s administration, after a decade of cheap oil convinced us we’d never pay $35/bbl again.

  16. While the sober ‘truth in statistics’ approach lets some air out of the benefit claims, the goal of net profitability still remains.

    Leveraging relatively abundant local resources – labor – against scarcity-prone imports – motor fuels – is a common sense application of localization and import replacement.

  17. 5% more driver hours per year? Do they also need 5% more trucks for those drivers to drive? That’d be 420 trucks. How much do they cost? Or are we counting on the slow down in the economy to mean there are less goods to port?

  18. Clearly you people are not old enough to remember the last time they tried this idiocy.

    I’m old enough, and I’m with you fatman! I mean, why not all the way down to 45mph to save even more gas? Time is money. More sensible to leave speeds where they are and get people into more efficient vehicles.

    Not every vehicle has the same optimum speed. My car has a low Cd even for a car, and it’s way better than a truck-like SUV. The SUVs mileage probably falls off a cliff over 45mph, while my car’s mileage drops very little even up to 65mph.

    And then there’s the fuel efficiency question. Shouldn’t someone with a more efficient vehicle be allowed to drive faster? What about EVs that burn no gas at all?

  19. My car has no avionics.
    What did you pay for your avionics?

    New Garmin with GPS, $24,000?

    GA is tremendously more expensive than flying. You’re hiding all the costs, such as getting your license, avionics, etc. You have your A&P, while most don’t. You might save on typical maintenance (oil change, etc.) but that means you’re getting zero pay for being an A&P mechanic!

    GA pilots love to promote flying, but the truth is, GA pilots love to fly, and they will hide the true costs in every way, to keep flying.

  20. I know our friend rice farmer reads this blog regularly, have you seen this story:

    Jump in rice price fuels unrest

    It is hard to argue that biofuels are also impacting rice prices. Egypt and India are doing what Japan has for years, prohibiting rice exports to keep prices either high/low in the domestic market.

    High oil prices are likely driving higher rice prices. Oil producing states have a greater percentage of poor who are impacted by higher food prices particularly rice (think Venezuela or Nigeria). Could they put pressure on the state to increase production and thereby lower world food prices?

    If Egypt and India start hoarding food, can other countries be far behind?

  21. Dear Anonymous,

    I am not trying to hide anything. I know what it costs to own and operate my plane down to the last penny. Currently it costs me $68.00/hr to operate it. Admittedly this doesn’t account for my time as an A&P. On the contrary most people hide the cost of operating their cars. Doing the same cost analysis of the operating cost of my Toyota truck comes out to $0.52/mile, so the round trip to Tucson: 200 miles driving, 1.2 hours flying (shorter distance flying due to dogleg in highway). Driving = $104.00 Flying = $81.60

    I will admit that I can operate this plane for much less then most, this is for two reasons, first, I fly it a lot which dilutes the fixed costs such as insurance and required periodic maintenance. The other is doing my own maintenance and buying all my own parts, which will save you a ton of money.

    I don’t have a Garmin G1000 system and probably never will. I have a basic IFR package from the ‘70s, and I can take you anywhere you want to go anytime anybody with a glass cockpit can go except the few small airports that only have GPS approaches when the weather is bad.

    As far as loving to fly; about as much as most people love their drive to work, frankly I’m sick of it, and I’m sick of working on the plane. The only thing worse then flying to work is driving. The deal I have with my company has changed in the last couple of years. I used to only go one or two days a week, now they want me there almost every day. I think I’m going to retire soon.

  22. The price of rice — Up until now, the problem in Japan has been keeping a floor under the price of rice. The government has protected rice farmers (all the while trashing more rice fields for “development”) and almost totally kept out imported rice, except for one brief panic a few years ago. The main underlying factor is that the Japanese consume less rice now, and more of things like bread.

    But now I see Japan on the cusp of change because the prices of imported food (Japan imports about 60% of its food) have recently skyrocketed. Since wheat and corn are used as ingredients in so many other foods, just about everything else is going up as a result. Higher fuel costs are hitting food processors. Another factor is the recent scare over tainted food imported from China, which has generated a flurry of demands that the food self-sufficiency rate be increased.

    So in my crystal ball I see a shift back toward rice, and, if fuel and fertilizer keep getting more expensive…

  23. Rice farmer – does Japan import rice too? I was under the impression that they produced enough rice but imported things like chicken, beef, fruit, vegetables and other grains. I thought rice was one of those nationalistic Japanese things I don’t understand. Although I have to tell you the rice in Japan is way better than we can get in the US. And I live in the middle of a rice growing area. I can see rice storage from our 2nd story windows. Rice fields have given way to suburban development. Maybe we need to reverse the trend.

    If other countries follow India and Egypt, things could get very ugly.

  24. King of Katy — As a rule, Japan does not import rice. But some years ago there was a bit of a panic among the public that a shortage might develop before that year’s harvest, and the government imported rice from Thailand (which now may have a shortage because it exported too much), over the objections of rice growers. Thai rice is not considered tasty in Japan (short-grain rice is grown here), and it was mostly used in processed foods.

    Yes, things could get ugly. Once a staple like rice or corn gets too expensive for the Little People, civil unrest follows.

    BTW, on truck speeds I recall that many years ago when lower Interstate speeds were introduced, truckers were complaining because, they claimed, their rigs got better fuel efficiency at higher speeds (a trucker acquaintance also told me so). But now they are agreeing. Do today’s trucks get better mileage at lower speeds, or were the truckers lying before?

  25. I’ll let George Monbiot explain why flying is much more damaging than driving…

    There are two reasons why flying dwarfs any other environmental impact a single person can exert. The first is the distance it permits us to cover. According to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the carbon emissions per passenger mile “for a fully loaded cruising airliner are comparable to a passenger car carrying three or four people”. In other words, they are about half those, per person, of a car containing the average loading of 1.56 people. But while the mean distance travelled by car in the UK is 9,200 miles per year, in a plane we can beat that in one day. On a return flight from London to New York, every passenger produces roughly 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide: the very quantity we will each be entitled to emit in a year once the necessary cut in emissions has been made.

    The second reason is that the climate impact of aeroplanes is not confined to the carbon they produce. They release several different kinds of gases and particles. Some of them cool the planet, others warm it. In the upper tropo-sphere, where most large planes fly, hot, wet air from the jet engine exhaust mixes with cold air. As the moisture condenses, it can form “contrails”, which in turn appear to give rise to cirrus clouds – those high wispy formations of ice crystals sometimes known as “horsetails”. While they reflect some of the sun’s heat back into the space, they also trap heat in the atmosphere, especially at night; the heat trapping seems to be the stronger effect. The overall impact, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is a warming effect 2.7 times that of the carbon dioxide alone.

    clee: You’re hardly going to get an impartial opinion from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

  26. Carbonsink,

    Likewise, you’re hardly going to get an impartial article from George Monbiot.

    Remember he’s a journalist who makes is money off the back of anthropological climate change scaremongering, both in the broadsheet newspapers (who are only catering to what their readership will purchase/consume) and in books.

    What grates about old George is his do as I say not as I do attitude.

    His consumption for international air travel is much larger than mine, yet he harps of about not permitting the masses to travel.

    Get bent, George.

    Lets find a technological solution to this problem rather than start with the talk of bans, limits, entitlements etc…


  27. I look forward to $300 oil. Electric vehicles will be a no-brainer with $10 gasoline. Solar and wind will be cheap in comparison. We’re moving to the Solar Age. Hydrocarbons were necessary for the transition,but they were only a stop gap measure. We’re still talking decades to get there. But,$300 oil will get us there faster.

  28. carbonsink writes:
    clee: You’re hardly going to get an impartial opinion from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

    Perhaps not, so I went to some SEC documents that are supposed to be truthful. If they aren’t truthful, the SEC can de-list them from the stock market.
    In 2005 JetBlue used 303 million gallons of jet fuel, had 20,200 million paying-passenger-miles and a load factor of 85.2%. That comes out to 66.7 passenger miles per gallon, which is better than a Prius with just a driver, or a little Honda Fit with 2 people in it, or a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution with 3 people in it, or a Hummer H3 with 4 people in it, or a Mercedes-Benz G 55 AMG with 5 people in it

    In 2002 JetBlue’s aircraft fuel cost was less than half of salary/wages/benefits.
    In 2005, fuel cost surpassed labor costs, just like they have for the trucking industry according to the referenced article. So they have a big incentive to reduce their fuel costs.

    I’ll agree that fuel efficiency is a different issue from greenhouse gases and global warming. The trucking companies don’t seem to be lowering speed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but to lower fuel costs. I may have to change from red-eye flights to day-time trips in order to make the con-trails work to our benefit.

  29. Remember he’s a journalist who makes is money off the back of anthropological climate change scaremongering…

    Ummm … lets see now, who has more at stake here, the global fossil fuel industry or those scaremongering AGW journalists and those money-grubbing scientists at IPCC?

    Monbiot has made a valuable contribution to the debate. He is far, far more than an “AGW scaremonger”.

    Lets find a technological solution to this problem…

    Lets put a price on carbon that quadruples the price of flying and see what human ingenuity can come up eh? (my guess: nothing). Oh wait, the price of crude will do that anyway…

    That comes out to 66.7 passenger miles per gallon…

    Hmmm that’s 3.53L/100km per passenger in real numbers. I’ve heard lots of numbers for airline fuel efficiency bandied about, but nothing that low for operational airliners. I believe the A380 and Dreamliner will get into the 3’s fully loaded, but I don’t think anyone’s flying a fleet of A380’s yet are they?

    Of course, this argument conveniently ignores the problem that jet airliners allow you travel 17,000km in one day, which is about how far I drive in one year.

  30. According to Wikipedia:

    The US Transportation Energy Data Book states the following figures for Passenger transportation in 2004: [34]

    Rail (Commuter) 5.3 L/100 km (45 MPGeUS)
    Rail (Intercity Amtrak) 5.6 L/100 km (42 MPGeUS)
    Rail 5.6 L/100 km (42 MPGeUS)
    Motorcycles 4.6 L/100 km (51 MPGeUS)
    Cars 7.2 L/100 km (33 MPGeUS)
    Air 8.1 L/100 km (29 MPGeUS)
    Personal Trucks 8.9 L/100 km (27 MPGeUS)
    Buses (Transit) 8.8 L/100 km (27 MPGeUS)

    But again, you ignore the fact that jet aircraft allow you to travel much larger distances than any other mode of transportation. Even if a jet plane does 2L/100km, I can still burn more fuel in a day than I can in a year of driving.

  31. Yes, jet travel allows me to travel much larger distances in a day than any other mode of transportation. But I will continue to fly to see my parents once a year (and it’s much less than 17,000km to do so). They are old and infirm, and I do not know how many more times I will get to see them. Unfortunately they aren’t so good on the phone anymore. They don’t write letters or send email or do videoconferencing. So I will not apologize for flying. As you so nicely laid out, it is the most fuel efficient way for me to go see my parents.

  32. As you so nicely laid out, it is the most fuel efficient way for me to go see my parents.

    It is?! Trains use 5.6L/100 km, planes use 8.1L/100km. You can’t catch a train?

    clee, I’m not asking you to apologise, I’m not asking you to refrain from flying to see your parents, I’m simply asking you to admit that flying is the single most damaging act an individual can commit, both in terms of how much oil is consumed and how much greenhouse impact it has.

    As Monbiot puts it:

    More painfully, in some cases our freedoms have become obligations. When you form relationships with people from other nations, you accumulate what I call “love miles”: the distance you must travel to visit friends and partners and relatives on the other side of the planet. If your sister-in-law is getting married in Buenos Aires, it is both immoral to travel there, because of climate change, and immoral not to, because of the offence it causes. In that decision we find two valid moral codes in irreconcilable antagonism. Who could be surprised to discover that “ethical” people are in denial about the impacts of flying?

    We are all in denial about flying — you, me, RR, everyone.

    My family of four will be flying from Australia to the UK later this year to see relatives. A classic case of Monbiot’s love miles. We’ll cover something like 40,000km each, a total of 160,000 passenger kilometres (!), emit more than 40 tonnes of CO2 and consume God knows how many tonnes of fuel.

    Do I feel bad about this? You betchya. Will I cancel the flight? Not a chance.

  33. Ooh… I let the L/100km vs MPG turn me all upside down as to whether I was looking for a higher number or a lower number. I can take an Amtrak at 5.6 L/100 km or 42 MPGeUS, but I think I’ll stick with my usual Boeing 737 also at 42 mpg under typical passenger load, according to
    Maybe it would be better if I switch to the more efficient JetBlue Airbus A320 now that they fly out of my local airport.

    Cars use 30.9% of transportation energy, compared with 8.4% for air travel, according to
    I can see why the government seems to focus more on cars.

    Flying is the single most damaging act an individual can commit? I’m thinking wasting electricity from coal-fired plants would be worse. But it’s okay to me if your opinion differs.

  34. Flying is the single most damaging act an individual can commit? I’m thinking wasting electricity from coal-fired plants would be worse. But it’s okay to me if your opinion differs

    Its not an opinion. You could leave all your lights and appliances on for a year with 100% coal-generated electricity, and still produce less CO2 than a single 24 hour flight to the other side of the world.

    And if you’re concerned about Peak Oil (and I’m assuming you are seeing you’re here at RR’s blog) there is no substitute for jet fuel. You’re guzzling tonnes of the stuff right at the moment production is peaking.

    Do you not see the hypocrisy in someone that drives a Prius, has solar panels on their roof, and is a strict vegetarian, but does 5 or 6 long haul flights a year?

  35. It’s opinion based on hypothetical situations. Considering there are no single 24-hour flights, it’s hard for me to think it’s an act an individual can commit. Meanwhile I can burn up a lot of electricity running my air conditioner full blast in my uninsulated house in the summer and an electric heater in the winter, and lots of computers on 24×7 and a home theater… maybe add a heated swimming pool and massive outdoor lighting. As to the coal, I’m more concerned about the pollution it generates that make it hard for people with asthma to breathe. Mountain-top removal mining that poisons the water supply of people downstream, making them ill.

    If you are concerned about peak oil, as I assume you are since you read this blog (and assume that if I read this blog, I must be concerned about it), then the problem will solve itself for you. The oil will run out, no one will be able to fly and you will be happy.

    I tend to agree with RR on hypocrisy. If I followi his reasoning correctly, if a person doesn’t tell other people not to fly, then it’s not hypocritical for them to fly. I know people who are vegetarians, people who drive Prius and people with solar panels on their roofs who are not concerned about peak oil or climate change. They have other reasons for not eating other creatures, driving geek cars and saving money on their power bills, so there is no hypocrisy there.

  36. Considering there are no single 24-hour flights, it’s hard for me to think it’s an act an individual can commit.

    You’re obviously not from Australia or New Zealand. Any flight from the Antipodes to Europe or east coast USA is around 24 hours, and some of the newer planes will do it non stop. It is very common for Australians and Kiwis to make 24 hour flights.

    As to the coal, I’m more concerned about the pollution it generates that make it hard for people with asthma to breathe

    Ahh I see, more denial. Its probably the easiest way to deal with things. Unfortunately my brain doesn’t work like that.

    The oil will run out, no one will be able to fly and you will be happy.

    Not happy at all. I’d like to think we can preserve enough oil so future generations will be able to travel the world … because unlike electricity generation and ground transportation, there are no alternatives to jet-fuelled aviation on the horizon.

  37. I just went to look at your blog. I see from the header that you like to rant. I don’t much care for ranting, so I’ll stop feeding you. Bye.

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