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article imageOp-Ed: Can You Afford a National 55 mph speed limit?

By Richard Bass     Aug 16, 2008 in Business
Virginia Senator John Warner has asked the Energy Department to consider reinstating a national speed limit. He stated that a 55 mph limit could save 167,000 barrels of oil every day. It is good for fuel savings but can you afford it?
There is support for legislation to reinstate the national 55 MPH maximum speed limit within the U.S. once again.
The legislation was brought about in consideration of rising fuel costs and demands of energy conservation.
What will be a bigger question is if you can afford the lower speed limits or not. You might think this is an absurd question considering that driving 55 mph will result in better fuel savings over the current 65 to 75 mph limits per state respectively, which would cost you less at the pump.
But would the savings at the pump be overshadowed by the total at the checkout counter of every retail store in the nation whether it be the grocery store or the department store? While the average person driving a personal passenger vehicle will save a few bucks at every fill up, the trucking industry will slow down exponentially.
There are a few factors that have to be considered when considering the cost effectiveness of the proposed speed reduction. Under D.O.T. regulations there are strict time restraints of which the drivers have to operate under. One of which is the 70 hour's in 8 day's hour restriction. After the 70 hours are used up you have to show 34 consecutive hours of off-duty time to restart the 70 hours again. Another is the 14 hour and 10 hour rule. A driver is restricted to only 14 hours of on-duty status in a 24 hour period. Within that 14 hours the can only drive 10 of those hours. Where this might seem reasonable hours it can be very detrimental to productivity. Just a quick example would be, If you start your work day at 5am and drive 3 hours to your first destination at 8am and it takes you 6 hours to get to the dock and unload you have worked 3 hours but used 9 of your available 14 hours! That only leaves you 5 hours in that day to work before you have to show at least 8-10 consecutive off-duty hour before you can resume on-duty/driving status again. Although there are a few stipulations to these rules this is the general parameters of what you have to work within.
With the above boring details in mind you should have a general idea of how this 55mph speed limit might start to cost you more.
The average driver that can spend the entire 10 hours of allotted driving time at 65mph can effectively drive 650 miles per day. At 55mph the maximum logable distance is 550 miles. That's 100 miles less per day at a loss of $35 per day. Due too loading, unloading, and other various aspects the average miles per week are between 2,700 and 3,000.
There are an estimated 15.5 million commercial trucks in operation in the U.S. of those it is estimated that 1.9 million are tractor trailer's of which I am basing these figures on.( Due to the lack of current statistics and the closing of some 3,000 companies due the recent rise in fuel costs the exact numbers are inconclusive.)
The majority of long haul company drivers average $.35 per mile and 2,850 miles per week at the current speed limits. We can estimate that with the 55mph limit these figures would decrease by approximately 15%. That would decrease the average miles to 2,422 per week at a financial loss to the driver of around $150.00 per week. And unknown amounts of revenue's to the carrier and taxes paid to the states and government in road use taxes and commerce.
If you attribute these mileage losses to the estimated 1.9 million tractor trailer drivers in the U.S. you will have a loss of 813,200,000 miles per week and a yearly loss of 40,660,000,000 total miles per year. That is enough miles to travel from Los Angeles to New York and back to LA. 7,299,820 times or travel around the world at the equator 1,632,243 times.
Although these figures aren't completely accurate and are best estimates, you can clearly see that even with a moderate margin of error there exists a magnitude of revenue losses and large shortages of miles that would have otherwise been used to deliver goods to markets across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico as well as sipment to be shipped abroad. One would have to wonder how this loss of traffic could impact the economy, the prices of shipping, and the end result of costs to the consumer in all aspects of purchases.
It is also reasonable to believe that with the loss of miles per week and an average pay cut of $150.00 to the driver there would have to be an increase in shipping rates just to maintain a driver base of which is in short supply already due to high employee turnover rates nearing 100% according to the American Trucking Association.
These issues should be considered thoroughly before any permanent decisions are made. The costs in loss of revenue and increasing demand for products to be shipped will only serve to drive prices everything higher in a time that the value of the dollar is falling.
(The reinstatement of a 55 mph speed limit would also inhibit the productivity and trafficking of goods on the local level that aren't included in the above calculations. I can personally attest to this as I drive for a local distributor delivering to warehouses within Louisiana and Mississippi. With the restrictions of the 14 hour rule this could cut my and others pay in half that are already operating at the fringe of the allotted time.)
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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