Slow down fast

Chico billboard ca. 1979

Chico billboard ca. 1979

Old-timers and those who know their American history are aware that, during World War II, gas was sharply rationed domestically to free up supplies for the war effort. It was just one of many sacrifices citizens were asked and willing to make.

What sacrifices are we being asked to make today, in the fifth year of a conflict in Iraq that has claimed more than 3,500 American soldiers’ lives? None, unless you count burgeoning federal debt, the loss of civil liberties, injury to the nation’s image in the world, and the other unpleasant consequences of the foolish decision to invade Iraq. Otherwise, the only people sacrificing are the soldiers and their families.

The rest of us could do more. We could take personal action to free ourselves from addiction to oil, for example. We could stop buying gas guzzlers. We could tell Congress to hike fuel-efficiency standards dramatically. And we could all drive slower.

Studies have shown that we could save as much as 20 percent of the gasoline we use by agreeing to drive no faster than 55 mph. That would decrease oil consumption by 10 percent, a full two-thirds of what we import from the Middle East.

And it would save lives. The national 55 mph limit set in 1974, in reaction to the OPEC oil embargo, not only saved a quarter-million barrels of oil per day, it also cut the number of lives lost in traffic accidents by 9,000 annually. Today only Oregon has that limit.

Well, as Homer Simpson said, “Sure, it’ll save a few lives, but millions will be late!” That’s us—addicted to speed. We’re willing to let 9,000 people die in traffic accidents each year rather than slow down.

But if Americans should decide that our soldiers and their families shouldn’t be the only ones to sacrifice, returning the national speed limit to 55 would be a good place to begin.