Cars, Saving Money, Travel

Is It Possible To Drive Slow?

highway drivingOne of the tips you hear time and again in order to save gas (and which I have given) is to reduce your speed to 55 miles per hour when driving. This will save you about 20% on fuel consumption (a 20% return on your money) compared to driving faster. The question is whether or not this is a realistic way to save. While it sounds good in concept, have you ever tried to drive the speed limit (or below?) I did on part of this road trip just to see how realistic driving the posted speed limits is and I can tell you there are a good many people on the road from San Francisco to Seattle that aren’t happy with me.

Highway 5 has a speed limit of 65 or 70 miles per hour depending which stretch you’re driving on. I drove between 60 and 70 for a six hour period and never passed another car – everyone was driving faster than me including trucks (technically I did pass a few truck on long uphill stretches, but I’m not counting these since all re-passed me when the road flattened out). While I didn’t seem to create too much anger on the highway when traffic was pretty light, that quickly changed when there was road construction and the highway went down to one lane.

Obviously it’s possible to drive 55 miles per hour, but I think you’d need a really hard skin to be able to pull it off on a consistent basis unless there is just not much traffic and it’s easy for cars to pass where you live. In fact, you could be putting your life on the line if you were unlucky and ran into someone with a fit of road rage. I especially think that after the way I was treated driving the speed limit in a few towns I visited.

I tried driving the speed limit in all the towns I stopped in along the way. Driving 25 when people are used to driving 50 will get you more than your fare share of hand gestures, honks, flashed lights and dirty looks. There seem to be quite a few people on the road that are not patient in the least bit.

As I have mentioned before, I don’t drive much in the US these days (I don’t have a car), but is it realistic to always drive the speed limit (or even less with the 55 miles per hour gas saving advice)? Is it a legitimate way to save money or will you end up antagonizing all the drivers around you if you try it?

Bonus Random Road Trip Thought: Why is it that no matter where you are driving, there is always a country radio station that comes in loud and clear while all the others are barely audible above the static?

20 thoughts on “Is It Possible To Drive Slow?

  1. Ahh…but if you consider that your time has value, you have to figure in the extra time spent on the road by going 55 rather than 65.

  2. It’s not an either/or question – it is quite possible to cruise along under 55 where there are multiple lanes, then speed up for sections where you need to (either you’d hold up traffic at the slower speed, or need to get up to speed to safely cross multiple lanes for a turn-off or whatever).

    You’ll save quite a lot of fuel just by not keeping the pedal to the metal ALL the time!

  3. Stay to the right….and I am in my 50s, but if I want to go slow
    (and I usually do) I try and drive (and look) like I am 80, LoL.
    People honk, I wave…..they don’t like it, too bad.

  4. Depending on how your engine is tuned, 55 mph is not always the most economical speed. Also consider that if you change speed too often, that will waste gas—a consistent speed is important for saving.
       Finally, if you did go 65 mph, the time saved is not as great as we are led to believe. Assuming you have to get through city streets, studies show that a driver going 50 km/h versus a driver going 80 km/h will be slower by 45 seconds. Sure, one might save time on freeway stretches but the town stretches are a real equalizer.

  5. I recently bought a new Toyota Camry, and it actually says in the car’s manual “the faster you drive, the better gas milege you will get”… I was a bit shocked that this was actually stated in the manual, given that it’s largely false, and somewhat dangerous to suggest.

  6. I’m not sure of the validity of this 55mph statement, that seems true for older cars that were geared for lower speeds, but for cars that are geared for 70mph highway speeds should be getting optimal gas mileage at 70mph, because its all about the rpm your engine is running at, not the speed itself. Also – some engines are made to rev – my brother and I both drive toyota supras, and we found that we actually get better gas mileage when we drive with a little more “umph”

  7. I personally have a very thick skin when I’m driving. I don’t care what lane I’m in, I’m doing the speed limit. Sure does tick off a lot of drivers, but this is my car and my driving record. So far, I’ve never had a ticket for a traffic violation (and I know some of you are thinking it, I’ve never EVER been even pulled over for one).

  8. I’m not a big fan of driving 55 if the speed limit is 70; unless conditions are bad or there are other extenuating circumstances, I think driving the speed limit is safer.

    But since “traffic speed” always seems to be about 10mph above the speed limit, there is savings to be had by driving the speed limit rather than the speed of most other cars.

    A couple years ago I drove my truck from Portland so San Francisco and back. On the way there I drove my usual speed (speed limit + 10-15), and got my usual ~16mpg (about 40 gallons, or $100 at diesel prices then).

    On the way back I drove the speed limit the entire way (ranging from 55 – 70) and got 21mpg (about 31 gallons, or $78).

    Overall I wouldn’t say the 3 extra hours was worth the $22 saved to me. If gas prices were twice what they are, I might rethink that.

  9. Did you see an increase in gas mileage by doing this?

    I’m not sure – it is my sister’s car and I don’t know what she was getting before…I should have tested it to see…

  10. @Charles Martin – “I don’t care what lane I’m in, I’m doing the speed limit.” This is a little extreme in my opinion. If you are in the far left lane you should be passing and then moving out. Don’t just sit in the lane, even if you are doing the speed limit!

    I’ve been trying to slow down after realizing all the hurrying in the world doesn’t really get me there any faster. And getting pulled over will make you a TON later than driving 65. But it’s been a difficult adjustment to have the majority of people flying by as you ‘putt’ along

  11. same here. I’m not a big fan of driving under speed limit when condition is safe. driving 55 when say.. the general traffic (and speed limit) is 70 will drive me insane.

    but then again if they’re minding their own business sticking to the slower lanes, I really have no beef with it. and yes, for most cars, you do save significant amount in terms of percentage when you drive slower.

    during normal day to day trip, if you can keep it under 70 or 80 (or even 90), you’ll save oodles. for longer trips, it’s up to you to see if the time/cost ratio is worth it to you.

    I gotta agree with Dan too, Charles’ view is a bit extreme — especially if there are open lanes for you to drive at the speed you prefer. I mean if you want to drive at the speed limit that’s fine with me.. but you’re sharing the road with others. Just as others shouldn’t speed like crazy or cut through traffic, driving too slow in certain lanes does add to problems for others too.

  12. I’ve driven that stretch and it is impossible to go less than 70 for me. I am usually at 85-90 the whole way.

    I think my saved time is worht the extra gas consumption.

    Even if you factor in a speeding ticket or two.

  13. It’s ridiculous to even think that it’s more economical to drive anywhere above 55 mph. C’mon now.

    And i suspect there are more than a few drivers (myself included) who would LIKE to be able to drive the speed limit but are often bullied into driving faster becus of everyone who is breaking the law by going faster.

    We’ve got to start somewhere, right? So drive the speed limit (i wouldn’t drive under, purely for safety reasons vis a vis the maniacs out there) and stay in the right lane except to pass if needed.

  14. i drive the speed limit, and it does not matter who passes me. i do not get tickets or i accidents (well, one in 35 years). i usuall arrive at my destinations on time. i refuse to be bullied into driving faster. i only drive the freeways when necessary as i enjoy a pleasant view and the few minutes saved do not make up for the stress of dealing with the rudeness on the freeway. i live in a large city – but still practice my good manners even while in the car.

  15. Over a year ago I decided to try driving a little over the speed limit. I live in the SF Bay Area and am now usually doing 70 on my commute (when I can), which is 5 over the posted 65 mph speed limit.

    I drive a 2004 Toyota Celice GT-S (six speed). It’s fun and I HAD fun when I first got it. Jackrabbit starts, 80 mph, etc. And I was getting about 350 miles per tank (if I remember correctly). Deciding to stop the jackrabbit starts helps a LOT. I’m usually shifting gears at my 3000 rpm mark and now I do 70 on the highway with cruise control unless I need to pass someone or suddenly keep up with traffic. How has that helped? My gas mileage is REALLY increased. I’m now usually hitting 420 miles per tank. Having the sixth gear is great too. 70 in sixth gear puts me just a little over th 3000rpm mark.

    Sure that sounds like I’m not using my car to it’s full potential but I’m not one of the car modders that I see out there with the annoyingly loud exhaust pipes and the carbon fiber hoods. Whatever.

    I’m calmer on the road. I am usually driving WITH traffic too. If not a little faster even. And at that speed I still get behind people who don’t use their rear-view mirror to realize someone is behind them.

    So, long story short. Stopping the jackrabbit starts is a BIG help for gas mileage too. What I want to test now is whether 75-80 will get me the same mileage, thus making it the jackrabbit starts that were killing my MPG.

  16. Pingback: Save Money On Gas By Driving Slower » Budget Freak
  17. Air resistance goes up as you go faster (by the square of your speed too) and that is largely what tends to make 80 km/h about the optimum speed to travel for fuel economy.

    If you’re doing the speed limit it doesn’t matter what lane you’re in, no one should want to overtake you anyway (and if I need to make a right turn later on down the road I’ll stay in the right lane doing the speed limit without regard for the idiots so that I’m in the correct lane from the start (unless there is a keep left unless overtaking sign or the speed limit is higher than 80)).

    As for #6: I’ve seen some pretty funny typos in manuals. My laptop’s manual tells me not to treat it gently.

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