Divining Data


A few months ago I read a post on Will Richardson’s blog all about Data Driven Decision Making. As an educator and a hybrid-owner I knew exactly what he was talking about and I kind of chuckled to myself. Naturally, I assumed everyone else understood this logic too. During a lunch conversation yesterday I realized that my assumption was incorrect.

In my 2005 Civic Hybrid I have this nifty little readout right at the bottom of my speedometer that tells me my instantaneous and average fuel consumption. Since moving to Sacramento, I have been staring at this little device 3 hours each day (when I commute) and I’ve noticed something – the faster I drive the quicker my fuel economy decreases. For example, at 65 mph I usually get around 48 mpg. If I increase my average speed to 70 mph my fuel economy drops to 44 mpg, 80 mph nets 40 mpg, 85 mph yields 36 mpg. Conversely, if I decrease my speed the opposite occurs (60 mph = 52 mpg, 55 mph = 56 mpg). With gas prices steadily increasing each week I have grown to love driving slower. However, in California where the 65 mph speed limit signs seem to be more of a suggestion than an actual law, this is pretty tough to do without causing a major accident. My favorite commute day was last Monday when truckers were picketing diesel prices by blocking all three lanes and forcing us to drive 50-55 mph – I got 58 mpg that day!

So, using this data-driven decision making I would advise all of you who I have heard moaning about fuel prices to slow down. Its amazing how much gas you can save just by shaving 5 mph off of your cruising speed no matter what type of car you drive.

Now, I know a few of you are saying, “Well, you drive a hybrid. Your car is different.” Actually, no that isn’t the case. At highway speeds my car is cruising using its gasoline engine only. Since its a small engine (1.3L) mated to a CVT transmission strapped in an aerodynamic body I do a little better than most. Until plug-in hybrids become more common (listen to this NPR story) none of us will be electric only on the freeway.

Getting back to my lunch conversation, I heard another interesting piece of data. One of my dining companions works in the airline industry. While talking about the Aloha, ATA, and Skybus closures he shared with us that a few years ago Northwest figured out that for every $1 per barrel the crude oil price rises, they incur $47 million in extra operating costs. Kind of makes you think about how tightly connected our economy is to energy prices. Perhaps we should use a little less when possible?


Photos: Civic Dash by Brian

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