Gasoline prices are on the rise. That current fact of economic life should have a little special poignancy on Jan. 2. On that day, 26 years ago, President Richard Nixon signed into law the national gas-saving 55 m.p.h. speed limit.
That caused some outcry. A lot of people were skeptical.
But many more saw the need for such a law as an embargo by Mideast oil producers cut supplies and quickly drove up prices. Americans faced gas shortages and the prospect of sharply rationed fuel.
Today's price hikes presage no such crisis. But they may force some useful rethinking of the cars we drive and how fast we drive them. The typical highway speed limit is now 65 m.p.h., with 70 or even 75 on some stretches of interstate. The actual speeds driven by motorists often exceed even those higher limits.
And the vehicles? Americans' love for gas-guzzling light trucks is legend.
The new year, however, could see some resurgence of fuel efficiency as a selling point for cars. And drivers may be economy-wise to hold the speedometer to the posted speed limit in order to save some costly gasoline.
Statistics show a decrease in highway fatalities as speeds have gone up over the past five years. But common sense argues that reasonable speeds promote safety. And, of course, less gasoline burned means less pollution.
The experiences of 26 years ago forced some lessons in conservation and restraint. It won't hurt to relearn a few of them.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society