Column: High Price Positives At The Pump

This story was written by Brandon Pfeffer, The Pitt News


It seems like it was just yesterday that I was cruising down the road in the finest 12-miles-per-gallon utility van an American car manufacturer has ever produced: the Ford Mark III conversion van. I'd swing by the Shell station and fill up both tanks at $2.70 per gallon and then exchange friendly but still very masculine head nods with the guy filling up his Escalade at the next pump over.

These days, it's impossible for me to finish filling up my first tank before a brigade of Prius owners swarm around me and start chanting their mpg stats. Not that I can afford to fill my tank anyway.

But with rising gas prices and the subsequent sacrificing of our Mark IIIs, comes a few underappreciated benefits that we're all beginning to see:

Less traffic on the roads.

The Federal Highway Administration has reported a 2.1 percent decline in overall road travel since the beginning of 2008. That means when the occasional drive to the grocery store is needed, you won't be spending as much time reading clever bumper stickers while waiting for congestion to ease.

And studies by the Congressional Budget Office have demonstrated that people are cutting their trips when prices raise - a 0.7 percent decline in freeway trips for each 50-cent increase. It's simple, really. With less Mark IIIs on the road, Prius owners have more of it to themselves. Maybe they'll shut up now.

Not only is that fantastic in itself, but less cars on the road also leads to

Less traffic deaths.

Riding in an automobile is risky business. There were about 38,500 road traffic deaths in the United States in 2006. And if you're between 21 and 24 years old, you fit the demographic for being most likely to be involved in a fatal auto crash. And according to an estimate prepared for Time Magazine, if gas prices stay more than $4 per gallon for the next 12 months, we can expect roughly 1,000 less accidents every single month.

Less Mark IIIs on the road also contributes to

Less pollution.

Oh yeah, all you fuzzy green, environmental types will love this one. Not only do we live in the city that was rated as having the worst air quality in the country by the American Lung Association, but wait, isn't that enough? Well it's also supposed to cut down on the amount of deaths caused by pollution-related illnesses to the tune of 2,000 would-be-goners in the next year.

What else can the Mark IIIs low mileage provide you? How about

The four-day work week.

That's right. You've dreamt about it. You've half-seriously suggested it to all your friends. Now it's real. In an effort to save money and resources, about 80 percent of Utah's state workers are seeing mandatory switches to four-day work weeks. Although many states are beginning to offer the option of the four-day week, Utah is the first to institute it as mandatory policy on a large scale.

The projected benefits? According to Brevard Community College President Jim Drake, whose Florida school utilized the four-day week last year for its summer session, more than $250,000 in energy costs were cut, and the amount of sick leaves taken by employees nearly dropped in half. If you don't want a Mark III by now

I give up. They're really quite stylish for their size. Oh yeah, and you can save money on your car insurance.

Since we harbor a shared objection to parting with our cash, I know you'll like this one. Since I'm not driving my hypothetical Mark III to work anymore and instead riding my bike, I now qualify for a change in auto insurance status.

By using Geico.com's online quote generator, I ran my information throug once as someone who uses public transportation to get to work, then once again as someone who drives to work everyday, all other details the same. Turns out I'd save about 9 percent in my monthly premium as a public transit commuter.

Now I'm out of letters.

Granted, I don't enjoy seeing greedy energy companies lining their already bursting pockets by scamming consumers, but look at the benefits: more people alive, healthy and not filled with road-rage. It almost seems worth it.
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