Miles per Dollar

With gas approaching $4.00 a gallon I keep thinking how nice it would be to have a gauge on my dashboard that shows the cost of the gasoline my car is burning, kind of like the gauges that show average miles per gallon and total miles. And then I think how great it would be if there was a government regulation requiring all new cars and trucks be equipped with such a gauge.

At the moment government regulation seems to have a bad reputation. Certainly regulations can cause competitive imbalances and higher costs while taking decisions out of the hands of consumers, and arguably many regulations do not provide sufficient benefit to justify the costs.  But regulations have been critical to achieving the quality of life we have and in many cases actually put greater control into the hands of consumers; requiring auto manufacturers to display a car’s average fuel economy is an example. And if a mandate is uniformly and universally applied it doesn’t distort the competitive playing field and can be cheap to implement. Requiring all cars to have seatbelts insured that no manufacturer gained a cost advantage by not including them and because so many millions had to be produced the cost dropped significantly.

A gas cost gauge wouldn’t have to be complicated. It would just need to let me enter the price per gallon I just paid and then show me how much money on gas I was spending as I drove along and how much it cost to get to where I was going. If it were required on millions of new cars and trucks the cost per vehicle would be nominal, likely less than $20. Yes, it takes one decision out of consumers’ hands – should I pay extra for the gas cost gauge. However at the same time it would give consumers far greater transparency into the cost of operating their cars and thus far greater ability to control their transportation spending.

My guess is this knowledge will cause many people to reduce the amount of gas they use. It’ s a truism that people pay more attention if they understand how much something costs them. Even just seeing a dollar sign can have an impact; restaurants don’t put dollar signs on menus because it causes patrons to buy less food. Actually showing drivers how much cash they spend driving around will make many think of ways they can consolidate trips or if a trip is even necessary.  People will change their driving patterns because they can very directly understand just how much money they are spending and how much they can save.

Our country needs to conserve gasoline and government regulation is part of that process. The role of our government is to extend individual freedom, and yes sometimes regulation can lessen individual control. However government’ s obligation extends not just to this generation but future generations as well. Mandating gas cost gauges on all new cars now would help conserve gas and extend freedom for generations to come.

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