Friday, April 25, 2008

Dialing (down) for dollars

Rocker Sammy Hagar famously protested the speed limits of the ’70s and ’80s with his “I Can’t Drive 55.” Eventually, of course, those restrictions largely gave way, and we’ve enjoyed 70 and above on much of the Interstate system since.

The double-nickel feels like a crawl to anyone who’s not Amish, but with $4-plus diesel and soon gasoline, how would you feel about 65 mph (and would we call that “Doing Retirement”)?

ATA has asked the Bush administration to pull a few bucks out of their Oil Patch buddies’ wallets and mandate that speed limiters be set at 65 mph on new trucks and impose a national 65 mph speed limit.

That’s laudable, because reducing your speed to what’s optimum for your truck (or car, for that matter)can mean reducing consumption – the famous “Sweet Spot.” But reduced speed also means fewer (legal) miles in a given amount of time. So those drivers who are paid by the mile will find themselves doing some fancy algebra to decide whether it’s better to dial back or pony up more for fuel, while risking a ticket.

This article is pretty typical of reports cropping up all over the country. Embedded in there are some other scary thoughts – when time/miles = money, then people and bosses postpone or skip on maintenance. That scares, or should scare, truckers as much as it does four-wheelers who hear rumors or slanted reports about unsafe trucks and drivers.

DOT officers have often told me they look for telltale signs that a vehicle isn’t well-maintained as it comes through a weigh station: excessive rusting, burned-out or broken lights, beat-up tires, just general shabbiness. The odds are they will find a citable problem if it’s pulled around back. Bada-bing! Another hit to your Swiss-cheesed wallet.

According to the Journal-Gazette article mentioned above, some drivers are already dialing down their speeds. What about you? And what are you hearing from your customers or the companies you lease to? After all, you have to make those deliveries on time, and some might not take kindly to your explanation that you drove slower than the speed limit. Let’s hear.