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Lead Foot

08/01/08 5:55PM By Deborah Luskin
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(HOST) Commentator Deborah Luskin knows she could save money on the unleaded she pumps into her car - if only she could get the lead out of her heavy right foot.

(LUSKIN) For shoes, I wear a women's size 8, but according to the on-line survey, Consumer Consequences, my carbon footprint is three planets and a half. When it comes to food, clothing and shelter, I'm fairly green. The problem is my car - and my lead right foot.
    
Even though I drive a no-nonsense car that gets thirty-five miles per gallon, I could do better if I just slowed down. Cars run most efficiently when driven in high gear at relatively low speed. Engine efficiency translates directly into better fuel use. According to fueleconomy.com, "gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph." With gas hovering around four dollars a gallon, I'm spending roughly sixty cents a gallon more in order to speed. I'm also risking a ticket, points on my license and increased insurance premiums. My lead foot costs me gold.
   
And clearly, I'm not alone. Most of the cars and trucks that pass me on the Interstate are going at least 70, using even more fuel than I do. So for all the bellyaching we Americans do about the high cost of gas, the issue can't really be just about money. If it were, we'd all slow down.
   
We'd save more than money, too. Driving slower saves lives. According to the Federal Highway Administration, about half of all fatal crashes are related to excessive speed.
   
Evidence also suggests that slowing down reduces stress, so I recently tried to drive fifty-five on the interstate; I managed to keep it down to sixty. Cars of all shapes and sizes zoomed up behind me, waited for their moment, and zipped past. I've done that kind of white-knuckle driving myself. By comparison, tooling along at fifty-five is effortless. But it's not as exciting as putting the pedal to the metal.
   
There's something delicious about speeding. It's the most reckless, irresponsible act of my otherwise law-abiding life. It's also the corner I back myself into every time I'm late leaving the house.
   
Thrills and time management aside, I speed because everyone else does. I speed just to keep up with traffic. And as much as we Americans want cheap gas, by and large we're not willing to slow down in order to save money.
   
The last time we had an energy crisis, Congress created a national speed limit of 55 mph. There was huge opposition to the law, and it was repealed in 1995 - about the same time the family car grew to the size of a small living room and fuel economy seemed quaint.
   
There's no question, the most significant thing I could do to reduce my carbon footprint is to stay out of the car, but in Vermont, that's hard. There's no public transportation where I live, and I have to travel long distances between jobs. But I could slow down; and if I could get the lead out of my right foot, I might just fit into a one-planet-sized  shoe.
 
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