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Published: Saturday, 10/1/2005

Slow down to save gas

MILLIONS of American motorists undoubtedly became a little annoyed when President Bush said they should cut back on their driving. Most folks, painfully aware of the price at the pump, have already changed how they drive.

Unessential trips have been eliminated. Errands have been combined. Who takes a Sunday drive for the fun of it any more? The country seems a little ahead of Mr. Bush's call to conserve gasoline in the aftermath of two killer hurricanes.

The driving public was dealing with high gasoline prices long before Katrina and Rita came along. In April, 2004, the national average price for a gallon of gasoline was $1.75, and that was a 6-cent increase over March, 2004. Today motorists think they are getting a bargain when gas prices dip to $2.75.

Americans know that they have to conserve. And it's not just gasoline. Natural gas prices are headed up dramatically for the winter heating season. By year's end, many households will spend $500 more on energy this year than last.

No wonder mass transit ridership has increased. After Hurricane Katrina, when the cost of a gallon of gasoline pushed past $3, TARTA's ridership increased 7.2 percent in the three days after Labor Day, compared to a year ago.

No wonder some of our readers have already asked in the Readers' Forum how much fuel the President burned on his seven trips to the Gulf Coast.

For those who have been driving a while, talk about energy conservation evokes images of the 1970s, when former President Carter promoted conservation during that era's oil crisis. Mr. Bush has not proposed energy conservation policies, so for Americans who are not already doing it, carpooling deserves consideration, too.

But there is a way to conserve that obviously hasn't crossed many motorists' minds: drive the speed limit. Faster speeds use more gas, in addition to raising the risks of injury and death.

Slow down and drive the speed limit. Gasoline supplies depend on it, and so do lives.

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