During the oil crisis in the early 1970's which was caused by the Yom Kippur War and disruption of the oil markets by Arab producers, our government imposed a national maximum speed limit of 55 mph to quickly ease the demand for gasoline and diesel. It worked and significantly reduced our demand for crude oil and motor fuels. We should do the same thing now.
The United States should lead the way and work to get other countries around the world to do the same. The oil companies and all their think tanks, like Cato, Heritage, and AEI will deride the action but who cares about them?
I can think of nothing that would have such a beneficial and simultaneous effect on so many problems:
- Demand for motor fuels would drop immediately and significantly and therefore crude oil demand would fall and crude prices would ease too. Crude oil demand didn't recover for many years after 1974 which was also due to permanent efficiencies, like smaller cars, being introduced too.
- The balance of payments would be improved meaningfully,
- It would support the value of the dollar,
- It would reduce pollution,
- There would be fewer traffic fatalities.
Typically, the Cato Institute and The Heritage Foundation were against the 55 mph speed limit back then and claimed to have done some studies showing the 55 mph speed limit didn't do much good due to limit gasoline consumption (off only 1% primarily due to non-compliance - so they say) or reduce traffic fatalities appreciably. I do believe non-compliance became a challenge over time as oil prices again fell and the bite out of the wallet got smaller but in the beginning people did comply and consumption did fall off and prices did come down. The speed limit was still left in place for safety reasons and was raised years later to 65 mph.
IMO, Cato and Heritage are not credible and I wouldn't believe any study they released without corroboration by some credible group. I lived through the period and can tell you that my gasoline consumption dropped a lot and there was much less stress driving at the slower speed.
Today we have more permanent incentives to comply than we had back in the early 70's, namely global warming fears, fears about peak oil, high prices, and I believe more people than ever want to do something to help if only the government would get off its ass and formulate even one damn policy for the good of the American people and the environment.
I suggest progressives and environmentalists start a discussion about instituting a national maximum speed limit again. We can start a discussion on blogs we visit, call our representatives, and contact Sierra Club and NRDC to get their reaction to name a few actions. I will do this and especially hope some of you who are more active on blogs than I am will too.