The View from Faraway Farm: Smooth flow equals less waste


I Remember the oil embargo back in the early 1970s. Those were incredibly uncertain times, and the legislative reaction came down to lower speed limits and a form of fuel rationing. In retrospect, the fuel embargo was good for us because we became less dependent on foreign oil, our automobiles became more fuel efficient, and the country's consciousness was raised about how cars were polluters. It wasn't really that simple, however. When the embargo was over and fuel costs went down, we went back to buying gas guzzling vehicles. This happened more than once before the lesson was learned.

Some interesting developments came out of those dark days. With government enforced fuel efficiency through the CAFE rules (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) researchers and engineers eventually discovered that the better they were able to burn more of the fuel during the engine's combustion cycle, the better the fuel efficiency became, and emissions were greatly reduced. In order to burn better, electronics were employed to manage fuel and spark, giving us the additional advantage of greater horsepower. A number of other discoveries made our vehicles more efficient, like computer management systems that shut down a number of cylinders when less power is needed, thus saving fuel. Right hand turn on red rules improved efficiency because cars were not sitting there idling and wasting fuel while they could safely make a right turn, and ideas like that were simple and cost nothing. It is the right turn on red rule that got me thinking about one of my all time biggest pet peeves — drivers who execute tractor-trailer turns with tiny little cars. Why? There's absolutely no need for an automobile driver to do that just to make the turn!

Here's what happens when some dim bulb swings wide to make a left-hand turn. Their car blocks the entire roadway, causing the car behind them to hesitate or even stop when they could just as easily have gone around the turning driver. However, they can't go around because the idiot has blocked the entire lane. Had the driver not chosen to do a tractor trailer style turn (which is necessary for big trucks, not for little cars) and hugged the center line while waiting to make the turn, drivers behind them would be able to proceed without wasting fuel while waiting. Yes, it is about the same thing as a right turn on red. Being able to proceed would save fuel, save emissions, and help save the planet.

Why would a driver swing wide like a tractor trailer making a tight turn when the turn isn't tight? It could be laziness. Maybe the driver thinks they are saving a few turns of the steering while by swinging wide. It could be habit. That's the best I can come up with; it has probably become a lazy habit. Here's the game I play with myself while making a left-hand turn; I try to get my driver's side front and rear tires as close to the painted center line as possible without touching it. This allows driver's behind me to proceed on their way while I wait to make the turn. It is a simple courtesy that actually saves fuel for the other guy. Why would I give two hoots about saving fuel for another driver?

It all comes down to overall consumption. If we were to save, say, 100,000 gallons of fuel (not an accurate figure, just a wild fictional amount) a day nationwide by showing a little courtesy on the road, it would add up to millions of gallons saved. That would, in turn, cause fewer carbon emissions, save maybe a couple billion dollars for consumers, and help our trade imbalance with foreign fuel sources. It would reduce fuel demand, thus bringing down the cost of fuel. It would take someone a whole lot smarter than me to come up with an actual estimate of fuel savings that would result from the practice of this one simple courtesy on the open road, but I'm willing to bet that it would not be insignificant.

While all of the fuel-saving measures that we've come up with over the past forty years have made a big dent in our fuel consumption, I have to admit that one of the biggest factors in reducing fuel consumption in the United States has been the outrageous price gouging that took place in recent years. Remember when we were paying nearly four dollars a gallon for gas? I think I paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.50 per gallon in San Francisco while visiting there. Nothing creates the incentive to conserve like outrageous cost and conserve we did. Americans traveled less during those times, demand for foreign oil took a huge nosedive, and lower prices followed. I don't think anyone really wants to go back to those days, even though it is always possible that we will. At least we can still look for ways to save, and allowing for the smooth flow of traffic should save millions of gallons of fuel every year. Just say no to cars doing tractor trailer style left-hand turns!

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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