Updated on 04.26.13

Don’t Speed – Instead, Use Cruise Control (42/365)

Trent Hamm

A few years ago, I was pulled over for going 61 miles per hour in a 55 miles per hour zone. I mumbled and grumbled to myself as the officer went back to his car and wrote me a ticket. Instantly, over $100 went down the tubes, and that doesn’t include the bump in car insurance rates.

Sure, the officer was probably filling a ticket quota. That doesn’t change the fact that you can get hit with a speeding ticket at any time if you’re going over the speed limit.

Add on top of that the fact that most cars use fuel most efficiency when going at about 55 miles per hour, and a plan for cost-effective driving starts to become clear. Stick to the speed limit as much as you can.

Don't Speed - Instead, Use Cruise Control (42/365)

Let’s start with pure fuel efficiency. According to the link above, “You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.28 per gallon for gas.”

So, let’s examine a car that gets 20 miles per gallon when you drive optimally. Let’s say you’re going on a 180 mile trip, meaning you’ll normally gobble up nine gallons of gas if you’re going 60 miles per hour.

Turn the speed up to 65 miles per hour and you save about 14 minutes. However, you’re eating up $2.52 in extra gas. You’re essentially saving $10.80 per hour – and that’s after taxes – by driving 5 miles per hour slower. That’s just counting the fuel efficiency part of the equation.

On top of fuel efficiency, you have the risk of getting pulled over if you’re going over the speed limit. Getting a ticket is something of a random event. You could speed with reckless abandon and not get a ticket for years, or you could get two tickets on a single three hour road trip (I’ve seen it happen). When you get a ticket, not only will it cost you a significant amount for the ticket, it will also have an impact on your future auto insurance rates.

On top of that, speeding puts additional wear and tear on your vehicle. From increased wear on your brake pads from having to slow from a higher speed to additional wear on your engine from the greater usage,

$10.80 per hour is a severe underestimation of your savings from keeping your speed under control.

The challenge I have with securing this savings is that… well, I tend to have a lead foot. If I’m driving along a boring two lane road or a long stretch of interstate, I tend to gradually go faster… and faster… and faster.

My solution for that is to simply use the cruise control. I turn it on for every flat and straight segment of road I’m on. I flip it off for significant curves or significant hills, as I slow down for the curves and uphill segments and allow myself to pick up that speed again when going downhill.

The savings I rack up from simply keeping my accelerator under control – the gas savings, the maintenance savings, and the avoidance of speeding tickets – makes it well worth the extra few minutes spent on the road.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Misha says:

    Trent, it is really great that you are citing your source for your “peak fuel efficiency at 55 mph” statement… but I looked at your source, hoping they would show their math, and at the bottom of the page it says, “Estimates for the effect of speed on MPG are based on a study by West, B.H., R.N. McGill, J.W. Hodgson, S.S. Sluder, and D.E. Smith, Development and Verification of Light-Duty Modal Emissions and Fuel Consumption Values for Traffic Models, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, March 1999.”

    A study from March 1999 seems like it would have only minimal relevance to the vehicles on the road in February 2012. I mean, yes, my car is from 1998, but I don’t expect that to be at all representative of your readers or of drivers in general. Even people buying late-model used cars are not driving cars that existed in March 1999.

  2. Porf says:

    Pulled over for going 6 miles over? Wow, what a douche! Either he had to fill a quote or was one of those podunk towns that don’t generate much revenue and live off of the fee’s from violations. I live about 60 miles north of NYC and the cops on the NY Thruway usually give you between 10-15 over the speed limit, so I just usually set my cruise control to 75 and coast by the cops sitting on the shoulders looking for the serious speeders.

  3. Gretchen says:

    Not only a ticket for 6 miles over but increased rates?
    Did this actually happen?

    Because most of the rest of the post sounds just as made up.

    What about in areas where the speed limit is 65, for one thing- those aren’t new.

  4. matt says:

    the advertised MPG for my 05 Impala is 28 highway. I drive 75 consistently and get 35 mpg. I will gladly take the 5 mpg “hit” on my mpg to save time. Unless you value your time at nothing, this is nearly useless.

  5. jim says:

    Yes you might wonder if results from 1999 would still be valid today. I looked at that a little while ago on my blog.
    Cars have not changed that much. New studies on new cars show the same general results. Consumer REports did a study in 2009 and found similar results. I found results for VW’s from 2009-2011 all showing similar results. Of course the exact relationship between speed and MPG varies from car to car but all cars see it go down with higher speeds. For the Prius the optimal speeds are around 40-45MPH, but I don’t recall if that was more due to the hybrid function or more the aerodynamics.

  6. Misha says:

    Thanks Jim, such old results had me concerned.

  7. krantcents says:

    I generally use my cruise control when I take a long trip. It actually got me out of a speeding ticket years ago. I was going to Santa Barbara on a holiday weekend. I was next to a CHP cruiser and when I passed her, she pulled me over. My defense was I set my cruise control to avoid these problems and she let me go. I think it bothered her I passed her more than anything.

  8. lurker carl says:

    Lead footed drivers used the accelerator and brake pedals like on-off switches, not inattentive speeders when bored.

    If you can not do something as simple as monitor your speed over time then perhaps you should reconsider driving.

  9. valleycat1 says:

    Why is speeding (i.e., breaking the law) generally considered ok & getting a ticket for doing so an insult?

    And, are MPG ratings for highway driving determined based on highway speeds or 55mph?

  10. valleycat1 says:

    and, slightly more on-topic, speed control only works favorably if you set it at 55 or at the speed limit.

  11. Becky says:

    I wholeheartedly support using cruise control and I use mine on both the interstate and our “country” highways.

    What I cannot understand is the constant urging in these posts to drive 55 (or under 55). The speed limit on our local roads is 55, and if you go below 59, you are asking for trouble with tailgaters, unsafe passing, etc. These are country roads between towns, no traffic lights, no stop signs, nothing impeding the flow of traffic except the occasional tractor or Amish buggy.

    I set my cruise on 55 which seems to be a happy middle ground between obeying the speed limit and getting run over by (not kidding) the state police who are headed to traffic court every morning in the town I work in.

    Our interstate speed limit is 65 and it seems reckless to try and drive any less than that, even though we don’t have a lot of interstate traffic, most drivers are hitting 70 or a bit more.

  12. Izabelle says:

    I can’t agree with the attitude that a speed limit is there to be broken. Here’s why.

    I always wondered why the small town I’m from seemed to be the scene of so many deadly road accidents. I had never paid attention to the limits there before since I only learned to drive recently, well over a decade after having left the place. Then I had a chat with my mother recently and found out that my hunch was true.

    The speed limit for country roads (1 lane each way, only separated by the yellow line) is the same as for major highways in the city. This may be old news to you all, but for the new driver that I am it explains things. I find that people speed more in the country and have more of that “the limit is the absolute minimum” attitude. Well, according to the statistics just in, the road-related death rate per 1,000 inhabitants in my hometown (and I bet most of rural Canada) is 10 times what it is in the city. 10 times!

    I got to find out too many times what a young person in a casket looks like, and I’m still fairly young. For life’s sake, let’s slow down on the road.

  13. AnnJo says:

    Izabelle, roadway fatalities are a function of miles driven, speed of those miles, and access to prompt trauma care. The average rural resident is likely to drive more miles because everything is farther apart, at a higher average speed because there are fewer in-town miles relative to highway miles, have longer emergency response times because EMTs may have to come from many miles away, and has no access to the top-notch trauma centers that urban residents have. At least in the U.S., rural residents on average are also older, which often results in poorer outcomes to serious injuries. So I doubt that the variation you describe, if accurate, can be accounted for by speeding on country roads.

    At least on high-speed roads (interstates, county highways), my primary goal is to keep as far away from other vehicles as possible. That pretty much requires matching the prevailing speeds of the other cars, and I sure wouldn’t want to goad someone into following me too closely because I was dawdling. I have no problem getting out of the way of anyone who wants to speed past me; I just assume they got word their child is in the hospital or there’s a woman in labor lying on the back seat, and wish them luck.

  14. Elysian says:

    I wish I had cruise control on my car.

  15. Izabelle says:

    AnnJo, here is a sampling of the ones I knew:

    – 5-year-old hit by a freight truck while crossing a country road (dead on impact)

    -28-year-old in a head-on collision (the other guy was drunk), dead on impact

    -27-year- old who stopped on the curb to check something on his car (hit-and-run, found long dead)

    – 23-year-old who tried to pass another car in the opposing traffic lane while in a blizzard

    I could go on… all of them are related to someone’s negligence or impatience on the road. The fact is, at higher speeds, the risk of dying and/or the severity of injuries increase.

  16. David says:

    Just out of curiosity, how many people are there in your home town?

  17. Angie unduplicated says:

    If you learn to think of tickets as taxes on speed and behavior, you will learn to look for tax reductions. If you shop carefully for auto insurance, you will discover that ticketed drivers are charged an additional percentage for each ticket, and the company will charge you thar additional percentage for a full three years. The Benjamin dropped at the courthouse will multiply by five at the agency. Not cool.

  18. Kevin says:


    “Why is speeding (i.e., breaking the law) generally considered ok & getting a ticket for doing so an insult?”

    Because everybody knows most highway speed limits are set arbitrarily low in order to generate revenue for municipalities, rather than out of safety concerns.

  19. Kevin says:


    “The fact is, at higher speeds, the risk of dying and/or the severity of injuries increase.”

    Of course it is. However, the logical conclusion of that argument is that we should all drive 0 mph. That is, not move at all, because every incremental increase in speed produces a corresponding increase in fatality rates. Since this argument concludes we should all remain stationary, it is thus useless and totally irrelevant.

    The fact is, the increasing risk of higher speeds has to be balanced against the practicality of being able to move at all. So trotting out such an argument is an utterly irrelevant red herring to the question of where the speed limit should be set.

  20. getagrip says:

    Kinetic energy (the energy of motion) = 1/2 Mass times velocity squared.

    So the same vehicle driving 55 versus 75 is the same mass times 3025 versus 5675, or basically going 75 means you’ll hit with nearly twice the energy as you would at 55.

    Looking at distance traveled:

    75 mph = 110 ft per second.
    55 mph = 80 ft per second.

    Typical honest reaction time is on the order of one to two seconds. Being conservative, in two seconds you’ve traveled an additional 60 ft before you even begin to react, not to mention the additional stopping distance needed. Most vehicles aren’t intended for high speed maneuvers, so you’ve got less reaction time and less ability to maneuver the vehicle without losing control.

    So it’s pretty obvious why higher speeds kill.

    Finally, traveling 55 versus 75 how much time are you really saving:

    100 miles = 1 hour 49 min 1 hr 20 min
    20 miles = 22 min 16 min
    10 miles = 11 min 8 min
    5 miles = 5.5 min 4 min
    2 miles = 2.2 min 1.6 min

    You’ll have to make your own decision as to whether or not you want to risk life or limb at higher speeds to “save time” or what traffic will bear. The above applies just as much to 65 in a 40 zone, or 45 in a 25 zone.

    Finally, you’re kids will drive the way you do, not as you say. If you’re flying down highways, passing dangerously, tailgating people who aren’t going as fast as *you* want, etc. be assured that your children will likely be doing that same exact thing when you aren’t in the car with them.

    I found it eye opening when teaching my kids to drive, that doing the speed limit is apparently the rudest thing people believe you can do to them. One macho man was tailgating and flashing his highbeams, so I confronted him at a stop sign and asked how much of a man he felt trying to intimidate a sixteen year old girl into breaking the law. Then I demanded he stop looking at me and justify his actions to the twelve year old girl (probably his daughter) who was sitting in his passenger seat and then explain to me how he wanted her treated when he tried teaching her. He didn’t have much more to say at that point.

  21. Izabelle says:

    Come on. That all-or-nothing attitude of yours is not constructive.

    The point I’m trying to make is that it is dangerous to drive at highway speeds on roads where there is opposing traffic, occasional animal and child crossings, as well as the assumption that the road is empty (making the occasional child or animal crossing all the more startling). That coupled with modern road arrogance and impatience costs lives.

    @David: The agglomeration I am referring to contains approx. 36 000 people. The accidents listed above all happened within a 65 km stretch. On a 1 km segment near my parents’ village, there is at least one young life lost per year.

  22. David says:

    Kevin, you really must try to engage your brain before you open your mouth. It is not a “logical conclusion” of the argument that faster driving increases the risk of casualties to say that we should not drive at all. Instead, a logical conclusion is that we should drive at a speed that is compatible both with safety and with mobility.

    That speed will vary according to the nature of the road on which we drive. The World Health Organisation concluded, in its 2004 World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, that the maximum speed limit for various types of road should be:

    19 mph in locations with possible conflicts between pedestrians and cars;
    31 mph in locations with few or no pedestrians, but containing intersections with possible side impacts between cars;
    43 mph on roads with possible frontal impacts between cars, including rural roads;
    62 mph on roads with no possibility of a side impact or frontal impact (only impact with the infrastructure).

    Those speed limits are lower than those currently set by municipalities in the United States. Perhaps the traffic authorities in those municipalities are all in league with the local undertakers, for whom they are attempting to generate revenue.

  23. getagrip says:

    #18 Kevin.

    Speeds on highways and roads are set for a variety of reasons, the least of which is how fast you, as a driver, can manage to drive without wiping out. It has to do with traffic congestion, exit distances, lines of sight, population density, etc. then likely tagged with a safety factor to take weather conditions, tractor trailer hauling, etc. into account. Major highways have different criteria that suburbs, etc. You’re supposed to slow down in a school zone because there is a high probability there are kids around, either walking or on buses. You generally have slower traffic in a business area because people have to be able to a get in and out of parking lots safely to go to the business. They slow highway traffic in the cities because the exits start coming one after the other. They even use speed limits on the autobahn when there is a need to manage traffic speeds. Feel free to talk to any civil engineer who deals with traffic flow and patterns and you’ll find it isn’t arbitrary at all.

  24. tentaculistic says:

    #20 “I found it eye opening when teaching my kids to drive, that doing the speed limit is apparently the rudest thing people believe you can do to them.”

    Yeah, I hear you! I recently got a big ticket (bad habit, I try to “outwit” the cops when driving long distances, to keep myself alert and reduce driving time) and have since been driving with strict cruise control. I agree, from recent experience, that setting it at the speed limit is asking to be aggressively bullied and road-raged by fellow drivers. Hoo-boy, people get mad!! Even 5 – 7 mph over the speed limit is very much not welcome, but if you stay in the far right you can get away with it.

    I am surprised more people haven’t jumped in, calling shenanigans on Trent’s story. A ticket for 6 miles over?? And Mr Frugality didn’t contest it in court? Riiiiiight. I think this is one of those well-it-COULD-be-true stories that people tell when they want to have a personal touch, but don’t actually have a story to tell (I have a friend who does this).

    Also, what’s with Trent driving the exact speed limit or max of 5 over, but then letting his speed just drift away going up a hill? To me, this is one of those instances in which frugality steps over the line and becomes selfishness – it’s dangerous and rude to drive this way. I am surprised he hasn’t had to deal with angry fellow drivers! That would make me crazy. Please tell me that you’re at least in the far right lane at ALL TIMES, Trent!

  25. Izabelle says:

    I think it is shameful that so many people blame their behavior on others (i.e. “I’m really a good driver but if I don’t speed others tail me”). Change has to come from somewhere.

    In my neck of the woods, new drivers (no matter the age) have a 2-year probationary period during which they are only allowed 4 demerit points and a blood alcohol level of 0. There’s no way someone is going to bully me into speeding.

  26. Brent says:

    Just a word of warning regarding cruise control. Be careful when using it on hilly freeways as it might suck up more gas trying to maintain a constant speed going uphill. I used to religiously use cruise control until I got a scanguage and realized sometimes cruise control worked against obtaining the best mpg possible. I would suggest people get a scan guage (borrow one or resell it to save $$$) to learn exactly the type of driving style that will work best for your car.

  27. tentaculistic says:

    #25 Izabelle “I think it is shameful that so many people blame their behavior on others (i.e. “I’m really a good driver but if I don’t speed others tail me”). Change has to come from somewhere.”

    Really, *shameful*? Ha ha, high horse much?! I honestly am baffled by people who somehow conflate speeding with immorality. And act like as if the only moral way to live your life is to go exactly the speed limit. I don’t know, I guess I struggle with enough other legitimate moral weaknesses and temptations (unlike you maybe?) that I don’t really see speeding as a moral issue.

    I’m also baffled by the thought that the “change” you might effect is better driving in other drivers, rather than road rage fueled craziness. Although deliberate rear-ending too is change, I guess. But hey, you can console yourself that you’re “in the right”, if you survive.

    Me, I figure it’s best to walk a line between not pissing off other drivers and not getting pulled over by a cop. Although obviously I’m not always so good at the second one… and yet somehow I consider my soul to be in ok shape.

  28. Izabelle says:

    Whoa. I guess I hit a nerve!

    You live by the moral code you wish to live by, but I am fed up with people saying, in essence, that they would do things differently if only people around them did too. Everyone who says they speed because they have to is, essentially, blaming their behavior on others.

    I have more respect for those who stand by their actions than for those who blame their wrongdoings on the need to follow others. Being an adult in a free country means that sometimes, you gotta take the lead. If everyone slows down, the flock effect for speeding goes away.

    And I didn’t mention morality, you did. But your right to speed stops at my right to live.

  29. tentaculistic says:

    #28 – Actually, you did mention morality by introducing the word “shameful”. That is an intrinsically moralistic word, and a judgmental one. So yes, you both deliberately targeted and then hit a nerve.

  30. Kevin says:


    Several years ago, the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick changed the speed limits on all of their multilane divided highways from 100 km/h to 110 km/h, without changing any “traffic congestion, exit distances, lines of sight, population density” or anything else.

    How was that possible if the 100 km/h limit was, as you imply, carefully selected based on a complex amalgam of factors? Was the road always safe for 110 km/h, and it was set at 100 km/h merely to write more tickets (as I’m asserting)? Or was it built to be safe at 100 km/h, and reckless politicians are endangering everyone’s lives by encouraging people to drive beyond the engineering limits of the highway?

  31. Gretchen says:

    Confronting a macho man driver at a stop sign is going to get you shot.

  32. SLCCOM says:

    When I decide to go the speed limit and no more, I imagine myself in front of the judge. “Well, Your Honor, I was speeding because if I didn’t I would endanger other drivers who get pissed off because I’m not speeding enough.”

    I’m sure the judge would love a good laugh. And I’m equally sure that I wouldn’t get a break.

    Good for you, Izabelle! If people don’t like the shoe that fits them, maybe they should change their behavior. Yes, tentaulistic, we are both talking to you. You seem to overlook that when you speed, you endanger others. Willingly, and without any apparent concern for anyone but your precious self and infinitely valuable time. I’m sure glad that my moral code is a whole lot less selfish than yours!

  33. tentaculistic says:

    #32 Yeah, ok, that’s fine. We all have to live our lives as we see best. I don’t agree with you or Izabelle, but I’m ok with the fact that we have a different opinion on the matter. I’m going to focus my moral self-improvement efforts on issues I find relevant (I have more than enough of them), and slot “not speeding” into the good life habits box instead. Probably comes to the same end result (less speeding because fewer tickets), without all the guilt. I’m Catholic, I have more than enough guilt in my life already!

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