What a difference a year makes

Gas is cheap and people like driving in Detroit. What’s going on?! 

Blog Entry December 07, 2015

David Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news for his Roads Report column since 2000. The stories are all true.

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High-grade savings

One of the biggest news stories of this past year was the dramatic drop in gas prices. At the time of this writing, the national average for regular gas was $2.20, down from $3 at the same time last year. 

What’s really crazy, though, is what drivers do with all that money they’re saving. 

An analysis of 25 million credit and debit card users by JP Morgan Chase Institute found that consumers spent a good portion of their gas savings on . . . more expensive gas!

Behavioral economists aren’t surprised. They say many people tend to earmark money for particular kinds of spending, a tendency known as “mental accounting.” When the price of gas suddenly drops, people who haven’t mentally reallocated their savings will often find a way to continue spending it at the gas station. For many, that means an upgrade from regular to high-octane gas. 

“The common mentality is that there’s three grades of gasoline—regular, mid-grade and premium—and they correspond to good, better and best,” Chuck Mai, a fuel analyst for AAA, told the Tulsa World

“Some drivers who really love their cars feel that when gasoline prices go down, they can reward their autos for their faithful service by buying them a higher grade of fuel. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.”

Indeed, the FTC says most vehicles today need nothing more than regular unleaded gas. The more expensive premium grade will not make your vehicle run better and is only intended for high-performance engines. And no, that does not include your 2007 Honda Civic. 

Keep on truckin’

America needs a lot more truck drivers, and a new study just might help.

The American Trucking Association (ATA) estimates that the U.S. currently has a shortage of nearly 50,000 truck drivers. That’s up from a shortage of 30,000 two years ago, and 20,000 a decade ago. 

Trucker compensation has been increasing 8% to 12% per year according to the ATA, and yet the job is becoming harder than ever to fill. Between an aging workforce and a lack of interest from young workers and women, trucking companies are having a hard time recruiting and retaining new drivers. 

However, a new study from Notre Dame and driver retention company Stay Metrics might help identify the best new recruits based on specific personality traits. 

For example, orderliness was found to be a key predictor of driver turnover. Drivers who are orderly are more likely to take notes, make lists and keep paperwork in order. 

The study is still in the peer review process so all the details won’t be published for another year, but Stay Metrics already plans to use it to develop a selection tool for carriers to use when screening job applicants. The tool could be available as early as next summer, assuming they can find a driver to deliver it.

The year’s best and worst

If you dread your commute to work, you’re not alone. A mobile app has discovered that most people in the world hate theirs even more.

The Waze traffic app gathered data from its 50 million users across the globe to produce the world’s first “Driver Satisfaction Index.” Taking into account traffic, road infrastructure, accidents, hazards, weather, access to parking and gas stations, and the cost of fuel, the study determined the most satisfying and miserable places in the world to drive.

Despite being one of the most densely populated countries on Earth, the Netherlands was found to offer the best driving experience, as well as the least amount of traffic. 

Believe it or not, the U.S. finished in the top 5 for both categories, bolstered by many smaller cities with appropriate infrastructure. 

The study also ranked the best cities in the world for driving, and top honors went to Phoenix, followed by Greensboro, N.C., Dallas, Amsterdam, and . . . Detroit? Apparently so.

Well, you’re certainly better off driving through the Motor City than Latin American countries like El Salvador and Guatemala, which were found to be the most miserable places to drive. Their low ranking was due to the frequency and severity of traffic jams, a lack of driver services, and poor road infrastructure, conditions previously referred to as “Detroity.” R&B

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