Driving to and from Clayton both Saturday and Sunday, I decided to experiment on driving within the speed limit. In other words, I would drive like an old person.
U.S. 441 is four-laned all the way to Clayton. Speed limits range from 45 miles per hour at Banks Crossing and in the towns of Baldwin, Cornelia, Tallulah Falls and Clayton to 55 mph and 65 mph depending — apparently — on the whims of the DOT.
On the way back on Saturday, I filled the truck up, getting a bargain rate of $3.97 per gallon. Since the only time I ever check the mileage on my Tacoma is when I’m driving to Tennessee each year at speeds normally well over the speed limit, this experiment is designed to see if driving slower makes an appreciable difference in miles per gallon. Since I get 25 driving hell-bent and loaded with my boat and the provender for a long weekend, what can I expect carrying nothing in the truck and moping along like a student driver?
Lacking cruise control and conditioned by my gender and background to get there as quickly as possible, staying under the speed limit required at least as much focus as staying in the correct lane. Fifty-five mph on an open four-lane road is absolutely crawling. Normally, I’d be doing eight miles above the posted speed limit (as fast as I can go and still hope to avoid being cited by radar-toting cops).
At my “normal” speed, a third to a half of the vehicles pass me. At my old-dude speed, virtually everyone swept around me, except other old dudes and an occasional vehicle whose smoky exhaust suggested the imminent demise of its engine. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed as if a significant percentage of the driving public disapproved strongly of my law-abiding energy-conserving display of patience.
(A word of caution. Do not try this on Interstate 85. U.S. 441 has about a tenth the traffic and I can’t recall seeing a single 18-wheeler on U.S. 441 above Banks Crossing. If you drive 65 through Jackson County on I-85, make sure your life insurance is paid up. If you survive, it’ll be because a Commerce cop pulled you over to ticket you for impeding traffic.)
When you’re the slowest vehicle on the road, everyone else seems to be in an unnecessary and dangerous hurry. I took the opportunity to feel righteous for my conservative driving and frowned with judgment when a Humvee and a Suburban raced by me driving like I normally drive.
If we all drove like old guys, the nationwide fuel savings and lives saved would be significant. Unfortunately, they would probably be offset by greater incidence of mental illness brought on by the frustration of driving slowly. It could be a generation before the conditioning of the last century is reversed by the need to conserve fuel.
As soon as I can afford a fill-up, I’ll know how many extra miles per gallon my patience created. Let’s be generous and think two more miles per gallon. Going to and from Clayton that would work out to a savings of .36 gallon. At $4 per gallon, that’s a whopping $1.44.
Enough for two cups of coffee if I get the senior citizen’s discount.