Saving Gas the Low-Tech Way

Ransom Riggs

As the price of gasoline creeps inexorable skyward, politicians and moguls seem increasingly stumped as to what to do about it. The most pro-active (sounding) solution floated recently is the summer-long Clinton-McCain gas tax holiday, at best a controversial idea. Less talked about are the low-tech solutions echoed by ecogeeks and envirowonks, which sound practically Depression-era in their approach compared to election-year bandaid solutions. They may sound so simple they're stupid, but it's hard to argue with the numbers.

Skip the French Fries

Unless you're driving a biodiesel vehicle, you don't want fries with that -- in fact, the super-sizing of Americans' waistlines since 1960 has cost the nation a fortune in gas money. A new study from the University of Illinois found that Americans weigh an average of 24 lbs more per person than they did in the 60s, and a heavier ride needs more gas to push it around. The extra gas required, multiplied by the three trillion miles Americans drive every year, equals about one billion gallons of gas expended since 1960.

Slow Down!

Truckers are leading the way on this one -- according to US News, some trucking companies are cranking back their fleets' speed limiters in response to $4/gallon diesel. The results are impressive: by setting the maximum speed of their trucks at 62mph versus 65mph, Con-Way Freight, one of the nation's largest trucking firms with 8,500 rigs, estimates it will save more than three million gallons of gas per year. Don't expect a national 65mph speed limit anytime soon, though -- after all, it was Congress who repealed the 70s-era 55mph speed limit, designed to reduce fuel consumption during that generation's gas crisis.

Quit Buying So Much of It

As the price of gasoline skyrockets, the laws of supply and demand come sharply into play -- eventually demand drops, just as it did in 2007. In response to pain at the pump, Americans actually drove ten billion fewer miles in 2007 than they did in 2006, at a savings of about 500 million gallons of gas. As prices climb further, expect to see savings climb, as well.

Bring a Friend

Carpooling is up the last few years, but it hasn't exactly caught on like wildfire. According to a study from Edison, SoCal's power utility, if every one-passenger car trip became a two-person carpool, we'd save eight billion gallons (and $24-ish billion) per year. So start making friends, people.

Of course, there are high-tech ways to ease the gas crunch too, like building more intelligent traffic lights, developing alternative fuels and increasing vehicle gas mileage standards. But those things require politicians and initiatives and money and bureaucrats; on the other hand, you can driver slow and carpool with little fear of a filibuster.