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Patriotic answer to $4-a-gallon gas: Drive less, and slow down

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There are two steps we can take right away that could have greater impact than oil from the Arctic. They are so simple and straightforward that they are seldom mentioned. But Americans took these steps during World War II, and they worked.

First, drive slower.

Second, drive less.

The savings of gasoline from these two steps would be phenomenal. (More on that in a moment.)

During World War II, Congress and President Franklin Roosevelt mandated a nationwide 35 m.p.h. speed limit. At that time, 35 m.p.h. was the most efficient speed for autos. Even more important, it helped preserve automobile tires, which was crucial because Japan had cut off American access to natural rubber from Southeast Asia.

Today, 35 m.p.h. is no longer the best speed for autos with their sleek designs and advanced transmissions. Newer vehicles generally get the highest gas mileage somewhere between 45 and 55 m.p.h., says David L. Greene of the National Transportation Research Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, Tenn.

The main force reducing mileage is air drag, says Dr. Greene. The faster you go, the greater the drag. Drag forces increase exponentially, so doubling your speed from 40 to 80 increases drag fourfold.

It makes a huge difference, for at 80 m.p.h. your car pushes against wind with the force of a hurricane.

Consumer Reports tested the effect of higher speeds on gas mileage. David Champion, director of auto testing, found that boosting the highway speed of a 2006 Toyota Camry cut gasoline mileage dramatically:

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