How Green Driving Changed My Life

January 12, 2007

Among other things, I resolved this year to drive slower. The California Energy Commission as well as almost every other government organization and eco-conscious group will tell you that higher than 55 mph, your car’s efficiency drops dramatically. ING, admittedly not the best source for transportation information (but pretty dang right-on-the-money when it comes to financial info) says the efficiency gain could be as much as 33%. This translates to up to 82 cents per gallon in your pocket, and over 6 pounds less CO2 released into the air per gallon of gas used.

I’ll admit, I don’t drive much; only about 8 to 9 percent of the year am I ever behind the wheel. If I drove more, either in terms of the frequency of my trips or the distances covered, I might find it harder to keep this resolution. But as it stands, this is an easy way to do something good for my wallet and the planet, and I hope lots of other people join me in this.

The thing I didn’t expect from this experiment is the way it’s changed my outlook on transportation. At 55 miles per hour, I am almost always the slowest driver on the road. I try to be considerate and stay in the rightmost lane, but the cars that pass me do so belligerently, as though they resent me for driving the speed limit. I’ve noticed–and this is less than two weeks after making this pledge–I rush less. As I meander down the highway (it hasn’t been long enough for me to fully adapt; 55 does feel almost like a crawl after what I’m accustomed to), my mind wanders to days long past, days I wasn’t alive for the first time around, so there’s no reason for me to feel nostalgic about them now. Yet I do. I feel like my little borrowed car is a time travel machine in miniature, taking only me back to the time when driving fifty-five miles per hour seemed ludicrous. In my mind, I’m in the 1950’s, in a blue-green Chevy convertible with the biggest tail fins you’ve ever seen. As more cars pass me, still seething anger under their chrome surfaces–never honking or glaring, as that would be unseemly–I feel like I’m slipping farther back in time. Soon I wonder if I should have an orange Slow Vehicle sign slapped on my back bumper, as the rest of the road’s occupants are treating me like I’m driving a horse and buggy.

Back in the present, women in SUVs pass me on my left and my right and I want to throw something at them. A young businessman in a sports car zips past and I want to ask, “Why the rush?” No, that’s a lie. I don’t ask, I scream. I have reverse road rage. I haven’t gotten calmer, and why should I? The decades my time machine transports me to weren’t any calmer. I’ve got a zen state about my own car and the time it’ll take me to get where I’m going, but other drivers’ actions give me aneurysms.

I’m old enough to remember when the federal 55-mile-per-hour limit was repealed in 1995; I remember being happy at the time. And for those with long commutes on desolate stretches of road, maybe it is a good thing. A white-collar worker can get home to his family sooner; a truck driver can get his delivery to where it needs to go faster than before. But for the average driver, the average commuter, is it worth spending the extra money to save a few extra minutes? Is it worth cutting off your fellow man to shave a few seconds off your time? Keep in mind the woman in the silver Toyota who’s driving exactly the speed limit. She’s not doing it because she hates you. She’s driving the speed limit because she cares about her car, her gas mileage, her town, city, state, nation, and planet. She’s driving the speed limit because she likes you, fellow commuter. She likes you a lot.
For those who are interested in learning more, check out the Slate Green Challenge.

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