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Truck drivers slow up to save fuel

Experts say slowing a rig from 75 mph to 65 mph increases fuel mileage by over a mile a gallon.

Trucker John Miller, Frystown, holds a sign as he directs a driver to a truck drivers rally to protest high fuel prices at a truck stop in Harrisburg.

AP photo

BISMARCK, N.D. — Coast-to-coast trucker Lorraine Dawson says fellow drivers used to call her “Lead Foot Lorraine.” But with diesel fuel around $4 a gallon, she and other big-rig drivers have backed off their accelerators to conserve fuel.

“I used to be a speed demon, but no more,” said Dawson, based at Tacoma, Wash. “Most drivers have cut their speed considerably.”

Dawson said she’s cut her speed by five to 10 miles per hour to save money for her company. Many independent owner-operators have slowed even more, she said.

“My fiancée is an owner-operator and he’s been crying a lot about the price of fuel,” Dawson said. “He’s been slowing way down.”

Truckers and industry officials say slowing a tractor-trailer rig from 75 mph to 65 mph increases fuel mileage by more than a mile a gallon, a significant bump for machines that get less than 10 miles per gallon hauling thousands of pounds of freight. Even sitting still with the engine idling, a rig gulps about a gallon of diesel every hour.

“We just can’t afford it,” Dawson said of diesel as she was topping off her fuel tanks at a Bismarck truck stop.

When she started driving trucks in 1997, diesel was about $1.97 a gallon, $2 a gallon cheaper than what she paid Wednesday in Bismarck. Rigs like hers have two fuel tanks, typically holding 300 gallons each.

The nationwide average for a gallon of diesel on Thursday was $4.03, up from $2.74 one year earlier, AAA North Dakota spokesman Gene LaDoucer said. The average in North Dakota on Thursday was $3.98, up from $2.82 a year ago, he said.

“Twenty-four states are paying $4 or higher,” LaDoucer said Thursday.

The climb is blamed on record crude oil prices and global demand, LaDoucer said.

Fuel accounts for about a quarter of carriers’ operating costs, and now is surpassing labor as the biggest expense for some carriers, said Tiffany Wlazlowski, a spokeswoman for the Arlington, Va.-based American Trucking Associations.

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