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What The Government Really Thinks About Gas Mileage

• By Eric Peters Eric Peters Autos

All this hubbub over how much gas cars burn and the government won't even synchronize traffic lights.

How much gas does that waste?

An interesting study was done by a Stanford University researcher a few years back. Its author – Victor Miller – estimated that the average car needlessly stops – and then goes – about 15 times every day as a result of such things as unsynchronized traffic lights.

When multiplied by the approximate number of cars driven each day in urban/suburban environments – which is about 60 million cars – the study determined that the fuel wastage of avoidable decelerating, idling and re-accelerating accounts for about 1.2 billion gallons of wasted fuel annually.

That is an ocean of gas – and a lot more gas than "saved" by elaborate, expensive and annoying technology such as the engine stop/start systems being grafted to almost all new cars as a desperation measure to meet the government's fuel economy fatwas.

Much more fuel could be saved simply by keeping the cars moving. And – as a bonus – we'd also save time, an invaluable (and never renewable) resource.

But it never gets done. The lights remain generally unsynchronized. Cars lurch forward, briefly. Then stop – and wait. It is like a Soviet-era bread line queue. Rinse, repeat – times 60 million, every day.

Not only is gas (and time) wasted, but also brake pads and tires – and tires are made of oil (mostly). I wasn't able to find a study which quantified how much needless wear and tear on tires can be laid at the feet of avoidable stop-and-go driving, but a sound guess is probably "a lot," since most of the wear and tear occurs from the initial friction of getting going – and the friction of stopping.

That adds up, too.

If you want to save fuel, the best thing you can do is keep moving – especially once already moving. It takes relatively little energy to maintain momentum; the energy bleed comes from getting three or four thousand pounds moving. And every time you apply the brakes to slow those three or four thousand pounds down, all that energy goes up in smoke, expressed as heat. If you want to feel your money being literally burned up, touch your brake discs after 10 minutes of stop-and-go-driving.

Much of it avoidable.

But no one in the government seems to care. They certainly aren't acting – doing anything about it.

Why? You'd think – if fuel economy really was such a Big Priority, as they say it is – the EPA would be sending hither proverbial swarms of officers to make sure that every traffic light in the country was properly synced with the others in its vicinity.

But that is too much effort, apparently. Even though it would hardly cost the government anything.

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