Idaho Transportation

Public Affairs Office
P.O. Box 7129
Boise, ID 83707
Fax: 208.334.8563

Just wave... I'll see you at the next traffic light

Observations from a gas miser
When you pull up to the gas pumps does the station attendant greet you by name?

Does your monthly gasoline bill rival your home mortgage?

Have you required your pre-teen to get a part-time job to pay for trips to soccer practice?

Has an afternoon at the city park become your summer vacation?

The incessant rise in the cost of gasoline has prompted a rumble across the land that rivals the great San Francisco earthquake. Motorists are fuming while their gas is burning. But has it led to significant changes in driving patterns, destinations or a different mode of travel?

Experts offer a resounding, and somewhat perplexing “No. Not yet. Maybe when the street price hits $3.50… or $4 or $5 per gallon. But not yet.”

A subversive group of drivers, long ostracized and kept underground for their socially unacceptable behavior, is beginning to surface as the gas prices soar. These tight-fisted, penny-pinching misers make it their passion – their life’s goal – to squeeze as many inches, yards, feet and miles out of a gallon of gas as physics will allow… to the contempt of less patient drivers.

No kidding. They drive as if their present tank of gas will be their last. You’ve encountered them on Idaho highways:

  • They push their vehicles from a stoplight to conserve fuel.
  • They begin coasting three-quarters of a mile before a stop sign.
  • It takes them two days to reach cruising speed on the interstate.
  • And they have jettisoned all non-essential adornments from inside their vehicle (except the cup holders) to reduce weight and improve mileage.

They’re called “hypermilers.”

I know because I am one.

I watch with amusement as cars bolt from traffic signals like funny cars at the Firebird Raceway. Their goal is to hit the speed limit – or 10 mph faster – before they reach the other side of the intersection. More often than not, I pull up behind them and wave with perverted sense of satisfaction at the next signal where the process begins anew. On a two-mile journey, there might be a 10-second difference in our arrival times.

But my more aggressive counterparts apparently consider it worth the 10-15 miles they sacrifice in gas mileage to get home, or to the office, or to the store or anywhere else a couple of minutes before I arrive.

On a five-lane highway, I set my car’s cruise control at a couple of miles over the posted speed limit, move to the right lane and watch the parade of vehicles pass on my left as if I were peddling moped – uphill, into a hurricane. In contrast, they drive as if someone down the road is giving away free gas, not charging $3.47 for it.

I blame my deliberate driving style in part on the computerized “driver information system” my 1990 Oldsmobile (24 miles per gallon) came equipped with. One option on the computerized panel enables me to see the actual gas mileage my vehicle is getting at any given time… six to 10 mph from a dead stop, 20-26 cruising at a moderate pace, 99 as I coast downhill with a tail wind. I also can check the number of miles per gallon on the present tank of gas.

Newer vehicles apparently do not have onboard computers. I think they were sacrificed for more entertaining options, like GPS map displays or wide-screen DVD monitors. It seems as though no one wants to know – or cares – about the rate of gas consumption. Drivers just pull out their platinum credit card at the fuel station and complain about how fast the pump’s digital display matches the freeway speed limit.

“Somebody (no one knows who) should do something,” they shout as they speed away from the station, gas dripping from the exhaust pipe of their nine-passenger sport utility vehicle.

Gouged again.

But they’ll be back, no doubt after a long weekend of water skiing on the reservoir, four-wheeling in the desert or trailer camping in the forest. While I wouldn’t trade for their gasoline budget, I do envy the gold-foil, autographed calendar they receive every year from the board of directors of Exxon-Mobile.

If you’re a member of the me-first auto club, please don’t honk as you streak past me on Highway 69. Just wave. Maybe I’ll see you at the next traffic light.

Mel Coulter
Office of Communications

Published 6-8-07