“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Monday, April 23, 2007

What's REALLY the best speed?

My last post looked at possible savings utilizing costs with 55 m.p.h. as a basis. I decided I had enough information to look at what speed minimizes total cost with salary and fuel consideration only. The elimination of the 55 m.p.h. baseline had a surprising effect.

I calculated using the constants developed in my previous post, which enabled me to determine the total fuel cost as miles of the round trip (freeway part only) divided by miles per gallon at the speed in question, times $3.40 per gallon. My salary was easily calculated at miles travelled (36, as noted previously) divided by miles per hour times salary per hour.

As it turns out, the resulting equation has a global maximum at about 110.5 m.p.h., a speed that I can drive (and have driven) in the Grand Cherokee. I will concede that there are many downsides to the strategy of driving 45 m.p.h. over the speed limit and that time lost at the side of the road talking to the Highway Patrol, time lost in court, money lost paying for traffic school, fines, and insurance increases (assuming that, after a few reckless driving tickets, insurance could be obtained at any price) would have a severe impact on the accuracy of the cost calculations.

For these reasons, I am unlikely to adopt this habit. Nevertheless, I am going to become dramatically more aggressive in reducing the impact of the salary component by finding ways to produce on the road. Failing that, the emphasis may have to fall back to those aspects of fuel consumption reduction that do not result in increased trip times. Unfortunately, as best I can estimate, all of those together have approximately 25% of the impact of low freeway speeds. This is beginning to feel like a manifestation of the second law of thermodynamics ("you can't break even").

I ran the numbers for someone making $60,000 per year (significantly less than my salary) and the optimum speed for that particular drive in that particular vehicle is 80 m.p.h. So presumably, for a minimum wage worker, 55 m.p.h. might be the right choice.

These are all rather fuzzy numbers, since I will get to work and complete my job, and the hourly wage guys will put in their hours. Therefore, it's actually "personal time" that is being used during the commute. However, the best surrogate I have for that is the rate at which people are paid, since that amount of money will cause them to leave home and family to go to work. In any case, it is clear that there is a high price to be paid for minimizing fuel consumption by driving slowly.

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