Friday, July 11, 2008

Is Driving Behavior Changing?

We drove today from Waverly, PA to Wilmington, NC, a distance of about 623 miles through Harrisburg west of Baltimore, around the western side of the DC beltway and down I-95, US 117, and I-40 to Wilmington. While it took us about eleven hours and was a little tiring, I noticed some things I think worth noting. For most of the trip on the Interstate highways, we drove at about sixty-two miles per hour. Our Toyota Tacoma truck with crew cab and long bed got between 23 and 24 miles per gallon for the trip. This is about two to three more mpg than we get driving 5 mph faster.

During the past couple of years, driving under seventy on the Interstate system has been scary. Trucks bear down on you from behind and smaller cars whip past at fifteen to twenty mph faster than we like to drive. Today, a Friday with lots of people heading for the beaches and mountains, traffic seemed lighter than it often does, and it moved more slowly. The right lane held pretty steady at around 62. The passing lane was perhaps six or eight mph faster, but it was the rare traveler who sped past at high speed. While the trip took perhaps an hour longer than it might have in the past, it seemed a little less pressured and more civil to me.

Gasoline prices in Virginia and Pennsylvania were a little lower than we expected. We filled up at a Love’s station at Pine Grove on I-81 north of Harrisburg for $3.85 a gallon and again at Love’s in Skippers, VA for $3.95, in both cases below the national average and somewhat below prevailing prices along the route. Stations were crowded, but cars moved in and out quickly. Drivers on the road did not appear to me to be as angry as they have during the past couple of months.

What all this suggests to me is that people are altering their behavior to make small savings in the cost of driving. There’s a possible aggregate benefit of such changes, should they be real rather than just my impression, will have a positive effect on the price of gasoline. My only fear is that a $.50 reduction in the price of gasoline might be just enough to bring more people back on the road and increase the speed at which they drove. Only time will tell.