Friday, December 12, 2014

The Real Gas Hogs

We’ve all seen it at one time or another.  Driving down a road or highway in the pouring rain, we look over to the side and see a lawn sprinkler merrily doing its job, unaware of how unnecessary it is.  It looks pretty stupid, but it’s not really that bad.  Mistakes happen, and the technology is often not able to compensate for these occasional small errors.  The problem arises when the person who owns the property or sets the sprinkler does this over and over, and then proceeds to complain about the size of his water bill.  He can expect little sympathy from anyone.

Now consider all the people who complain about the high cost of gasoline, but have done nothing to adjust their driving habits.  They must have developed these bad habits somewhere, certainly not from driving school in their teens, but these habits waste money just as surely as if they were standing out watering their garden in the middle of a rainstorm or leaving all the lights on when no one is home.  These habits can be changed, but it takes some level of understanding and concentration on the part of any driver.

Consider first the speed demon.  He drives above the speed limit, which is dangerous and wasteful indeed, but don’t most people cheat just a little on the speed limit?  The biggest waste, though, comes from not looking up ahead to assess the situation.  He seems to consider the only option for his feet are to be on the brake or on the accelerator.  So he guns the engine to pass all the slowpokes and then brakes at the stop light, later to resume this pattern.

The other common offender is the tailgater.  Again the practice is dangerous, but it too is wasteful.  When he drives down the street or highway only a few feet from the car in front, he is constantly adjusting to keep the distance.  The brake lights blink on, then off, then on again, all the way to the next intersection or exit.  He also fails to look ahead, being so close to the car or truck in front that he cannot see the flow of traffic ahead in order to adjust to brake lights or other signals of slowing.

A car engine uses gasoline to gain and maintain speed.  The energy from the fuel is converted to energy of motion as efficiently as the design of the engine allows.  Whenever drivers apply the brakes, they are taking some of that energy of motion and converting it to heat – heat from the friction the brakes use to slow the car down again.  It doesn’t matter what brand or size of car they drive.  They use gasoline to provide motion, and then burn some of that motion by unnecessarily braking, and then use more gasoline to regain the same motion.

Others may look ahead and see that the light has just turned red.  They will take their foot off the gas and let the car slow down naturally for a while – after all, they are coming to a stop soon anyway.  Not the speed demon.  He maintains speed far closer to the light, sometimes even pulling out to pass the guy who is slowing down, as he sees it, prematurely.  Finally he applies the brakes, burning off a lot more of the energy of motion that came originally from gasoline. 

Likewise the tailgater – by following too close and not anticipating conditions, the constant tapping of the brake is a continual waste of perfectly good energy used initially to go, then wasted as heat to slow, then more is required to go again.  He puts himself and others in danger while hiccoughing down the road and sabotaging his own gas mileage.

Waste is waste, and resources are limited.  In our interdependent society, when one group wastes gasoline, electricity, water or anything else, it has an effect on everyone else, making the resource scarcer and more expensive.  Worse is when they waste resources by continuing bad habits, ignoring advice to correct them because they consider their time or their space more important than everyone else’s.  They are also probably among the loudest when complaining about the high price of gasoline or about how their car doesn’t get anywhere close to the mileage promised on the dealer’s sticker.

A serious effort to change these habits might be a good thing to consider before the price of gasoline starts heading back up again.

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