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US Senator Broaches the 55 mph Speed Limit

US Senator Richard Warner (R-VA) has requested that the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) study the imposition of the 55 mph speed limit in the US in 1974 to determine whether the administration and Congress should take similar action now.

In January 1974, in response to the oil crisis triggered by the OPEC oil embargo imposed in October 1973, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act, which had passed both the House and the Senate unanimously. The law established inducements for states to reduce speed limits to 55 mph on all major highways. Failure to comply would jeopardize the ability of states to secure highway funds.

Prior to this, speed limits were established and enforced by the States and not by the Federal Government.

Given the fuel savings of the act, and the resulting decrease in highway fatalities attributable to the lower speed limit, Congress made the national speed limit permanent in December 1974. In 1995, the law was repealed.

A National Academy of Sciences study in 1984 estimated that the savings in energy from the “double nickel” were 167,000 barrels of petroleum per day, or less than 2% of the US’ highway fuel consumption. This represented an energy saving worth $2 billion annually then.

The panel also found that compliance with the law had decreased markedly in the years following the subsiding of the oil crisis (and oil prices), and that this trend might lead to a gradual nullification of the national speed limit and, therefore, to the loss of the safety and energy benefits.

Warner is asking the DOE and GAO to answer the following questions:

  1. Given the significant technological improvements since 1974, at what speed is the typical vehicle traveling on US highways today most fuel efficient?

  2. If a national speed limit were enacted similar to the 1974 law, but the speed limit under than law was consistent with the most fuel efficient speed for the typical vehicle on US highways, what would be a reasonable projection for total fuel savings? What would be the savings for the average citizen who owns and operates a vehicle?

  3. If a new national speed limit was enacted consistent with the first two questions, how many fewer barrels of petroleum a day would Americans consume? Is it reasonable to believe that there would be a reduction in price at the pump, and if so, what are the ranges?

  4. If the federal government took the initiative to reduce its oil consumption, consistent with the concepts of the sense-of-the-Senate resolution (S. Res. 577), how many fewer barrels of petroleum a day would be saved by the federal government?

In a speech on the floor of the Senate in which he announced his request for information from DOE and GAO, Senator Warner said:

I am not taking a position that at this time we should invoke a new initiative in the Congress to pass legislation calling for a national speed limit because I simply do not have the facts. I am on a fact-finding mission. But if those facts come forward, as I believe they will, and show that this will help alleviate and lessen the demand at the pump and the cost to the American citizen, then I am quite likely to try—more than that, I am quite probably going to try—and garner support on both sides of the aisle to push forward with this legislation. I say so because I come back again to about a third of America at this point in time is frantically trying to make ends meet. We have to come up with a solution. We have to lead in the Congress, and hopefully the President will join. We have that duty.




And it doesn't have to be 55. It might turn out that 60 mph is the rate that is best for fuel efficiency. Obviously it'd be less optimal for highway safety, but nobody would argue that we should limit highway speed to 25 mph since that would lower highway risk even further.

Of course, ticket prices need to be high enough to both (a) discourage fast driving, and (b) pay for the additional state troopers out on the roads enforcing the speed limit.


It seems to me there is a fundamental problem with this. That is that any lowering of consumption by the US will quickly be compensated for by increased demand elsewhere. In fact consumption in the US has already dropped and yet prices continue to increase. Unless such a speed limit scheme is instituted world-wide I don't see much benefit except in terms of trade balance. On the other hand I think its quite a sensible proposition as a global UN-type proposal if this crisis really gets out of hand.

The Scoot

It's not the speed... it's the number of cars on the road that use gasoline or diesel. Warner should instead try to push an 8,000 dollar tax credit for Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles...

Like the Chevy Volt.


Re: "US Senator Richard Warner (R-VA) has requested..."

The senator's first name is John.


Reinstall the Nixon Nickels?

Is this the best idea the Republicans can come up with for saving the planet?


JT: First of all you'd need to convince Republicans that the planet needs to be saved....good luck...

Then, you'd need to convince them that big restrictions on their freedoms are needed through mandates or big government tax increases...good luck on that one too...

If you frame your argument in terms of religion (judeo-christianity), national security, and free-market capitalism (including limited government) - Republicans will respond. For example - we need renewable energy because a) Jesus does not want us polluting creation; we will determine "pollution" via PURE science, not shaky/fuzzy Al Gore science, b) we don't want foreign dirtball thug dictators controlling or hurting America in anyway shape or form - especially through our energy supplies and c) the best renewable energy solutions can be found from enterprenuers in the private sector with the right government incentives, not through big government mandates & tax hikes & big bureaucracies.


55 certainly wouldn't hurt their balance of trade. The US going bankrupt doesn't really help anyone.


Since it worked before in the 1970's our incompetent government just might be able to implement it very quickly with little cost again.

Joe in MD

The original 55mph period was IMHO the beginning of the end for the US. Everyone found out that you could break the law with relative impunity and that this was true for many other laws than speed limits. Simply raise taxes and tolls, do not introduce yet another unenforceable law!

My other pet peeve is the BA (BS?, must be -- pun intended!) in Teaching -- it used to be that teachers had degrees in Mathematics, Chemistry, etc., not "Teaching", per se. When the Teaching degree was introduced, this heralded-in a period when "teachers" could (perhaps) teach but knew next-to-nothing about anything else.

Joe in MD

BTW, it is John Warner, not "Richard."


This is one of the behavioral issues that can be implemented in a short time. I hope it is more like 60 mph to reduce some of the whining and I hope we do this right away.


I don't think it's a good idea for this reason: 55 mph could cause more accidents on long drives due to distracttion by boredom and drowsiness factors.

Besides, today's automobiles outside of SUV's and light trucks with their aerodynamic bodies and vastly more efficient drivetrains means that going from 55 to 65 mph, the fuel efficiency drop is not significant. Drivers can keep their fuel efficiency up by other factors, notably keeping windows closed above 43 mph, keeping the car exterior clean, replacing the air filter regularly, and pumping tires to recommended pressure at least twice a month.

Alex, Tunbridge Wells

How about making an exception for PHEVs and BEVs? Let them do 80mph.

Electronically limiting cars in europe to even 100mph would srop the silly race for more power.


Weren't there tax breaks for SUVs and other heavy vehichles. Meant for businesses, but abused by non-business people? Inept government brought some of this on. Inept Detroit balking at the technical feasibility of higher mpg is another source.
It boiled down to everyone treating oil like it was an infinite cheap resource, and now we see what happens when we find out it is finite and the poor countries like China and India are climbing up the economic ladder.

I'll bet the most efficient speed turns out to be about 45 or 50mph, but hopefully the curve won't be too steep.


The power and therefore the work to push a car through air goes as the third power to the velocity.

For example, the power for a speed 55 mph = (55)ex3 = 166375

The power for a speed of 70 mph = (70)ex3 = 343000

The difference in relative units = (343000 – 166375)/ 343000 = .52

Its takes only about .5 of the power to go 55 than 70 mph

If you have an electric car where the work potential is limited and fixed, you can use only half the work to go a fixed distance at 55 mph as you can at 70.

The work potential goes as the square of the velocity

((70)ex2 – (55)ex2) / (70)ex2 = 4900 - 3025/4900 = .38

For any given amount of work you can go 38% less distance at 70 then at 55.

Henry Gibson

The US Congress and the rest of the Government has ignored the fact that the oil market is not a free market and continues to allow world wide speculation as well as US speculation on oil and its derviatives. It could have passed laws against the buying of oil and oil futures and oil derivatives by parties that cannot use it or take delivery of it. Congress can impose a high import duty or tax on oil and oil futures that are being resold to oil users in the US. All parties that buy oil or its products in the US must only buy oil that has a known history free of speculative purchase or process. Oil futures can only be allowed to be bought by parties that can actually take delivery and even they cannot resell except with a minimum %20 tax. Every body knows that the production of oil is artificially limited, so there cannot be any open market in oil or its products or any financial derivatives.

Because of environmental and other political obstacles it is imposible even for refineries to be built in the US or for new oil companies to enter into the market, and the reduction of the number of major oil companies in the US has eliminated much opportunity for competition so congress is obligated to act when the energy, from crude oil even, costs ten times as much as that from delivered coal. There is no question that coal can be made into gasoline and diesel at present prices and make a big profit in the process, so congress, while not allowing acid rain producing and other known poison releases, must not allow CO2 release to be an issue in producing alternative fuels for transportation. Congress should allocate more loan funding and subsidies for coal-to-liquid plants than is given ethanol.

New nuclear power plants can be used to displace much of the use of natural gas to also free it up for conversion into transportaion fuels and to eliminate its use for producing electricity when it should be saved for use in homes and small businesses that have no other clean burning fuel. Nuclear power plants are the most cost effective way of reducing CO2 emissions. Solar and wind power is too expensive and unrelable.

The amount of wastes produced by nuclear power plants is almost an unmeasurable fraction of the wastes produced by New York city alone. We now have technology in place to get an additional amount of energy from used nuclear fuel rods equal to that which has already been produced, and we know how to get fifty times or more the energy that has already been produced.

Used fuel rods and uranium are not waste; they could produce all the power needed in the US for the next hundred years, and by then the technology for getting uranium out of the ocean will be perfected so that the earth will have fission energy available for the next million years until fusion power on the earth becomes practical.

There is nothing that humans do that is perfectly safe. All life forms, including every human, in the past and now, are by nature and must be to live, highly radio-active compared to water. These life forms are also exposed to natural radiation from space and the earth. Even putting the highly radioactive used fuel rods in ordinary landfills is much safer on the average for US citizens than the highway system or even ordinary houses. If human lives are to be saved(reduce early deaths) in the most cost effective way, most of the money spent on "safely" storing nuclear waste should be spent on eliminating the use of cell phones while operating cars. Some of it could be spent to reduce driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

Only 31 people(Readers Digest) were directly killed by the radiation and explosion of Chernobyl; there will be other deaths but it is not possible to prove if the cancer was caused by the radiation inherently in the body, natural radiation from space or earth, chemicals or smoking. Five thousand people were killed immediately by the release of toxic gasses at Bhopal and it is easily possible that twice that many more died within months, and many animals were also killed.

At least 3000 animals were killed by a chemical leak near Seveso in Italy and eventually 80,000 animals had to be disposed of; many humans were treated for chemical exposure. At Vajont italy, water forced over a concrete dam in a nearly 300 yard high wave caused by a giant landslide killed nearly 2000 people; the dam itself did not fail.

The chance of even a Vajont size disaster at a modern nuclear power plant is a million times less. Nothing on the earth is pefectly safe, but places that have no electricity, have very high early death rates from starvation and contaminated water. The mothers of the dead, if still alive, would rather have nuclear power even from a RBMK reactor. ..HG...


@ejj "First of all you'd need to convince Republicans that the planet needs to be saved....good luck..."

Yeah I hear you, and this- -is how they spread their stupidity to the general populace.


@Henry Gibson

Your thinking on nuclear power has not kept up with the associated technology. Please do some study on the topic to adjust your preconceptions! The Chinese are breaking a new trail in GEN IV reactors. In a short time, they will have fielded 1000 units throughout China. This will force the west to follow suite. Your posts will not sway the anti-nukes; but Chinese competition will.

Read these as follows:

I expect to see an upgrade in your nuclear knowledge in your next post.


As a feather footer, I know lower speeds work for me. My heavily loaded Plymouth Champ hit 50MPG at 55MPG in the early 1980's, later my Suzuki 450 motorcycle would hit 75+MPG at 60MPG, & my heavily loaded Ford Festiva hit 53MPG at 60MPH in the 90's.

An 80 Toyota Tercel would hit 40MPG while feather footing under 60MPH. However, traveling cross country to a family concern in which I had to drive 15+MPH faster, the Tercel carrying 500 extra pounds only managed 30MPG.


I just spent two weeks in Germany driving at over 100mph on a daily basis. Even the nanny state Europeans aren't so stupid as to try and impose some golf cart type speed limit, even in a country a fraction of the size of the U.S.

donavan Gratz

The real fuel waster is traffic congestion. If they also implemented the following, 55 would be fine as one could be relatively assured of a smooth trip:

National traffic monitoring system based on most vehicles having a transponder which reports traffic conditions in real-time, on every road. All motorists would be able to subscribe to the system to receive real time traffic conditions and re-route accordingly. Current private traffic alert system with GPS nav units are woefully inadequate.

Serious penalties for law enforcement officers who do not perform immediate traffic management at accident scenes, as well as serious fines for rubbernecking on opposite side of road from accident.

Serious penalties for road crews who inadequately setup road work signage long in advance, update the traffic management system based on work progression, and sit around in large groups watching one worker dig a hole.

Serious penalties for drivers who cause accidents when doing stupid things like talk on cell, text, read, etc, based on the traffic congestion their accident causes and the projected loss in productivity and fuel efficiency by all the driver affected by the accident.

Wishful thinking, I know.

Uncle Leo

It is probably not fair to include "John" Warner with the other Republicans. He is a co-sponsor of the cap and trade legislation that is going nowhere. He also has an engineering degree which puts him at odds with the science bashers in the Cheny administration. He is on record as believing that the effects of climate change will over burden our war machine (besides the US Navy, who is going to feed 1 million displaced Bangladeshis?)
Just like a trial lawyer who does not ask a question unless he knows the answer, a politician does not request a study unless he knows the conclusions beforehand.

"Way to go Unlce Leo, sticking it to the man"


Driving our gas guzzlers at 55 to save gas is the policy equivalent of pissing in the ocean to raise the sea level.


Driving our gas guzzlers at 55 to save gas is the policy equivalent of pissing in the ocean to raise the sea level.

Establishing such a law saves only when people obey it.

The doubl nickle was the most unobserved law ever, with perhaps Prohibition as a counter example.

So the actual speed limit is what the drivers decide is comfortable and safe. It is what the roads were designed to be capable of functioning. Auto suspensions, (and driver comfort levels), are even better today.

When the 55 mph limit was finally repealed, there was not even a blip in the national fuel consumption figures, showing that now one obeyed it anyways,no matter how much wasted effort the police invested.

The idea wasn't Warner's; hew as merely agreeing with suggestions from Durbin, Boxer, Pelosi and Reid.

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