17 June 2007

I'm Society's Fuel

When people think about petroleum consumption in general, I believe that a common image is that of freeways choked with automobiles. Previously, in my own visualisations, I added airline and military usage. Even that liberal estimation did not prepare me for the apalling truth.

There are millions of Big Rigs hurtling down the roads today. Powered by diesel fuel, they get an average of about 7 mpg. Thats being generous. This is the overwhelming real cost of modrn consumerism, but I digress.

As a "company driver", my employer provides my diesel fuel. Fuel is probably the most problematic expense in truck driving. Sure there is the cost of maintenance (parts and labor) and insurance, but these are not given to nearly as much volatility as fuel costs.

Trucking companies try to mitigate fuel costs in simple ways. They will specify what route a driver may take, and thereby ensure that the freight travels the shortest possible distance. Other methods are maintaining a fuel-efficient fleet and encouraging drivers to reduce speeds and Out Of Route miles.

As a driver, my cheif obligation is to deliver on time. It has not been overtly requested of drivers in my company, but if I have adequate time to deliver, I will travel at a reduced speed to conserve fuel. My Frightliner Columbia has a Detroit Diesel engine with a 9-speed manual transmission. I shift into ninth at about 46 mph, and the truck is governed at 65 mph. I have a small LED display on my dash. When I recieve Qualcomm messages, it displays the first 8 characters. The rest of the time it displays my fuel efficiency and gives a general indication of engine load. From this display I have determined that the torque peak in ninth gear occurs around 55 mph, and that fuel efficiency begins to fall off at about 59 mph. Based on that information, I have been maintaining 57 or 58 mph when on multi-lane highways. I estimate that I am using about 20% less fuel than most other company drivers that are "zipping" around at 65. And since the minimum speed is 45 or 55 depending on where you are, everybody's happy, right?

Perhaps not everyone.

A New Mexico trooper stopped me near Tucumcari for impeding traffic. My GPS was reading an average of 57 mph. He clocked me at 52 mph and urged me to go faster. I find the ramifications of that particularly interesting. Now I have to travel faster because the cell-phoning masses blather away at ludicrous speed? The posted limit on that interstate (I-40) was 75 mph.

There is probably some subtext here about conformity within a society, but if this is part of a trend, then I really dont like the way its going.

So. Anyone know what I need to do to be legally considered a renegade?


I wish my truck had power windows.
(such things exist, they run on compressed air)

That way, when oncoming traffic fails to dim their high beams, they can also illuminate the digit I present as a pithy rejoinder.

As it is, it takes far too long to crank down the window.