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STILES’ ROAD RULES #3 (“Throttling Back!!!) From the 2005 archives

STILES’ ROAD RULES #3   “Throttling Back”  (from the archives 2005)

I wrote this a few years ago, but with recent news stories predicting another dramatic rise in gas prices this summer, here again are some helpful hints to increase your fuel economy…JS

These are difficult times for people like me. I love to drive. Nothing soothes me more than a long empty stretch of road and a full tank of gas and no known destination. While I loathe the crowded freeway, finding that deserted highway is something I always long for and often seek. I love the rumble of the road. I love spotting a little café in a town I never knew existed until the moment I drove into it and stopping for pie and coffee and listening to locals talk about last Friday’s high school football game and the price of cattle. I love hearing the singing meadowlarks as I slowly rattle by their perches on fence posts and power lines. I like to roll down my window and moo at the standing cattle and wonder if “bovolexia,” the irresistible urge to moo at cows in a field is really an affliction that will someday produce its own special medication. I love driving into a thunderstorm and listening to the rhythm of my wipers.


I know it’s wrong to admit I love to drive and I know I cannot begin to justify my addiction, but there it is, for all of you eco-purists out there, who want to call me a hypocrite.

I am guilty as charged.

Now with the price of gasoline stuck in the vicinity of $3, double what it was a year or so ago, and knowing that to wish the price would fall dramatically runs counter to my broader view of energy consumption in America, I am wracked with guilt and indecision. I knew I had to do something.

First I gave up my beloved Zephyr transportation fleet vehicle for anything but the absolutely necessary journeys. My 1986 GMC pickup which sports 226,000 miles on the odometer and which has faithfully hauled Zephyrs from printer to public for more than a decade, slurps up gasoline faster than an elephant eats peanuts. It might get 15 mpg on a good day, moving mostly downhill, which means I can hope for about 180 miles on $35 of fuel. It now costs about $170 in gas, just to drive to Tooele for a press run.

So I’ve forced myself to moth ball the Brown Bomber, firing it up only to keep the battery charged and the fluids circulating and to get the Z printed. I rely on my 1999 Subaru Forester on a daily basis and although I’ve never really developed the personal bond with this vehicle that I’ve experienced with other cars in my automotive past, I can say nothing but good things about her performance and efficiency. It always starts, has never broken down (knock on my pointy head) and even at above freeway speeds manages to get 30 miles per gallon.


But I knew the Subaru and I could do better and I knew it would require a sacrifice on my part. In previous editions of “Stiles’ Road Rules,” I offered nothing but scorn and contempt for those of you who fail to maintain the posted speed limit. My motto has always been, “Stay with the Traffic Flow or Get the Hell Out of MY Way.” I could move from tranquility to road rage faster than you can say, “slow moving Winnebago,” and some of my friends, experiencing my rage for the first time seriously suggested counseling.

Economic necessity and a nagging and annoying need to “do the right thing” changed all that. I slowed down.

If you’re under 40 years old, you probably don’t remember that in 1973, President Nixon ordered a reduction in speed limits on all federal highways to 55 mph as a means of conserving energy. For a country accustomed to speed, the double nickel national speed limit caused severe shock to the motoring public and required a major readjustment. Imagine driving across the Cisco Desert from Green River to Grand Junction at 55 mph…it was excruciating at first. It had never occurred to most Americans that driving at a slower speed had anything to do with fuel economy. When Nixon first announced the speed limit reduction, I was skeptical and decided to put his proposal to the test. So I drove from Louisville to Cincinnati one weekend to visit my parents and scrupulously monitored my speed both ways. I became a believer when my gas mileage improved by 15%.

Still the national speed limit was opposed by many Americans, particularly the trucking industry. In 1987, lobbyists convinced Congress to raise the speed limit on rural interstate freeways to 65 mph, but it wasn’t until 1995, 21 years after its inception, that the 55 mph speed limit was finally abolished by Congress.


Now in 2005, I have imposed my own national speed limit upon myself. I keep my speed under 60 on two lane roads and under 65 mph on the interstates. I try not to make a nuisance of myself by creating logjams for faster moving vehicles. If there’s no opportunity for cars and trucks to pass, I’ll pull over and let them go by, but if timid drivers who lack passing skills miss clear opportunities to get by me, they’re going to save fuel whether they like it or not.

Keep in mind that I live in the Rural West and don’t fight heavy freeway traffic on a daily basis, where trying to drive at 55 is a suicidal gesture. But out here, when the road is relatively empty and I know my vehicle’s capabilities and my own driving skills, I’ve even begun coasting on the long grades. Did you know that northbound between Monticello and Moab, you can coast for nine miles? That’s over 15% of the 54 mile journey.(I’m sure I’ll get calls from the Utah Highway Patrol on this one, so please don’t try it yourself.)

The bottom line for all my energy saving efforts has been an increase in my fuel economy from 30 mpg to 36 mpg or a 20% improvement. On a 15 gallon tank, that means I travel 90 miles farther than I did before. That’s like a free trip to Grand Jct. (if not back again).

Beyond that, I feel calmer. With some notable exceptions (those damn mega-motorhomes!), my road rage has gone into hibernation. Life seems just a little bit easier to cope with, now that I’ve removed myself from the fast lane.

And I have more time to moo at the cows.

The Dec/Jan Issue is online (click the cover)

AND the Feb/Mar Zephyr will be posted on Feb 1

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  1. Mary McCutchan said

    Thanks for reviving this article; a good reminder……..

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