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When thinking of celebrity fender-benders, you probably imagine Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears plowing into a parked car in Beverly Hills after a night of drunken partying.

But every so often, thrill-seeking celebs ditch the familiar byways of Rodeo Drive and head out for the open road—and that’s when the real trouble starts.

One sad example is the late Paul Walker, star of the Fast and Furious movie franchise, who was killed in a high-speed auto accident.

Remember the film “Red Asphalt” from driver’s training? Here are a few celebrities who obviously never saw it.

Basketball Superstar LeBron James
Miami Heat star LeBron James was clocked driving 101 mph on his 23rd birthday. His punishment? A speeding ticket worth $259, plus court costs.

At least he didn’t mail his fine in like Michael Jordan did.  

Music Legend Eric Clapton
While in France, the 16-time Grammy Award winner was clocked doing 216 kilometers (equivalent to 134 mph here in the U.S.) on a French motorway—53 mph over the speed limit.

Afterwards, had his United Kingdom driver’s license revoked, but still made time to pose for photographs with French police. Definitely a step in the right direction for Anglo-Franco relations.

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Lindsay Lohan
Al Gore III, Son of Former Vice President Al Gore
In 2006, former Vice President Al Gore explored the issue of global climate change in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The year following, his son Al Gore III was cited for driving over 100 mph in—get this—a blue Toyota Prius hybrid.

A hybrid car reaching triple digits? What’s next, rally car racing in a SmartCar?

Worst Offender - NBA Forward Kenyon Martin
The worst offender has to be NBA forward Kenyon Martin. In January 2006, he was ticketed driving 101 mph in a 30 mph zone. A few months later, he was stopped again for reaching 103 mph. And, as most celebrities do, he got off with a slap on the wrist.

Driving 101 in a 30 mph zone—who does he think he is, Jeff Gordon?

Honorable Mention – Basketball star Jason Richardson
While he didn’t quite reach triple digits, Phoenix Suns guard Jason Richardson still deserves acknowledgement for bonehead driving. J-Rich was clocked by Scottsdale police driving 90 mph in a 35-mph zone.

The worst part of the story, however, is that the vehicle was occupied by Richardson’s three-year-old son, who was left unrestrained in the backseat.

If you’re tagged for reckless driving (laws vary by state) you may be forced to purchase high-risk car insurance, which can cost two to three times more than a standard policy.

And you could be subject to misdemeanor criminal charges in some areas. Repeat offenders are often sentenced to jail time as punishment.

Filthy rich celebrities like LeBron James can afford sky-high car insurance rates. Can you?
 
 
PictureYeah, car insurance is important
Car insurance is one of those things that you know you have to buy but you hope you'll never have to use.

(Life insurance is a more extreme example of this--if you use it, you're dead, so you'll actually be glad to have "wasted" money on an unused life insurance policy.)

And because most states (48 states) require drivers to carry some level of basic car insurance coverage, the amounts vary by state but it's usually a very low level of liability insurance.

Not to say that liability insurance isn't important, because it is, but you won't be protected against a wide array of dangers if you only opt for liability coverage.

For example, you won't be covered for car theft if your car insurance policy doesn't include comprehensive coverage. Same with vandalism: if some hoodlums smash in your windows one night, you're on your own to cover the damages unless your policy includes comprehensive coverage.


Another little-known aspect of car insurance is uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Many drivers unsuspectingly skip this coverage thinking it's not necessary, but they're wrong.

Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage costs just a few dollars per month, but it can make a world of difference if you're on the roadways and get smashed by a wiseguy who is driving without insurance.

Or, sometimes the other driver has car insurance but his or her coverage isn't enough to pay for all the damages--this is a case of the other driver being underinsured. In this case, your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage would kick in to close the other driver's coverage gap.

It also covers you if you're involved in a hit-and-run accident where the other driver simply crashes into your vehicle before speeding away, so make sure your car insurance policy includes it.

If you have an older vehicle, like an old SUV or old pickup truck that you just use occasionally, then liability insurance is probably the best way to go if you want to save money on your policy.

Older, lower-value vehicles don't cost much to insure because, well, they don't cost much money to replace, and if you aren't worried about dents and scrapes you won't need the comprehensive coverage.

You'll get a super cheap car insurance rate with just liability insurance on your old beater, especially if you only use the vehicle sparingly and qualify for a low-mileage insurance discount.

Instead of buying liability car insurance just to meet the minimum, why not shop and compare car insurance quotes online to get:
  • The car insurance coverage you need
  • A premium you can afford to pay

If you shop and compare rates from different companies, you could find the exact same coverage--or better--with a different company. It just takes a few minutes and could save you hundreds of dollars each year on car insurance.

This tactic works for other forms of insurance, too: shop around and save money AND get better insurance coverage than you would have had otherwise. It's a win-win and only takes a few minutes.

So don't skip on car insurance when you can pay less by shopping around for a better deal.
Make sure you find a good quality company, though, with good customer reviews and a decent AM Best rating, because when you do go to file a car insurance claim you don't want to get the runaround from some shady insurer. Go with a well-respected company and you can't go wrong.
 
 
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Car insurance is required by law in 48 states.

The penalty for driving without car insurance can be very steep depending on the jurisdiction.

The minimum amount of liability coverage required by law varies by state--sometimes it's 50,000, sometimes it's less, it all depends on the state you live in.

B
ut all across America it's absolutely necessary that you have a car insurance policy before you put your butt behind the wheel and drive.

Why is car insurance required? Because accidents happen, and when they do there has to be someone there to mop up the financial mess, so to speak.

That's where your insurer comes in.

When you have an accident, your car insurance company makes sure that you don't lose money out-of-pocket and does its best to get you back on the road again.

That's the point of car insurance: you pay a premium and, in the event of an accident, the insurer helps you get "made whole" again, as if the accident never happened.

Car insurance is a safety net, but driving without that safety net is getting more dangerous by the day.

With the Great Recession putting more financial pressure on American drivers, the roadways are now full of men and women putting the pedal to the metal without any car insurance coverage to speak of.

In fact, it's been estimated that 1 in 7 drivers is driving without car insurance, an all-time high.
So if you get into an accident, there's a 1 in 7 chance the other driver has zero coverage whatsoever, which makes uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage absolutely critical.

This doesn't even take into account the number of hit-and-run drivers, people without a driver's license, etc.

That's why it's so darn critical that you make sure that your vehicle is covered with insurance, because while you can control your own driving habits and be a safe, defensive driver, it only takes one crazed, road-rage prone idiot on the freeway to ruin your entire financial picture by crashing into you and speeding away like the incident never occurred.

Also, by skipping car insurance you're saving money on your premium but you can't even register your car at the DMV without proof of insurance, so you'd have to buy car insurance for one month, register your vehicle then cancel the insurance policy just to save a few bucks--that's a huge hassle just to circumvent the law.

And if you haven't had continuous car insurance coverage, insurers will also charge you more money when you DO finally go to apply for car insurance coverage, so they'll get you that way, too.

Beyond the financial risk you're taking by driving uninsured, you're taking a huge legal risk too.
It's highly illegal to drive without car insurance, and here in California and other states any driver stopped by the police without proof of car insurance will have his/her car towed away and will be fined for driving without insurance.

And if you've ever had your car towed away to an impound yard, you know it costs a LOT of money to get your car out of impound--we're talking hundreds and hundreds of dollars here.

So all-in-all, it's better to just buy a car insurance policy that you can afford and be done with all the hassle and illegalness that comes along with driving uninsured. It'll give you peace of mind and protect you financially.

Shop and compare car insurance quotes on the web to find a policy that satisfies all your coverage needs but also is cheap enough so that you can afford to fit it into your budget.

It's no good to buy a car insurance policy that you can't afford to pay on a regular basis, so shop around, find a good deal and keep yourself legal.

 
 
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I had gastric bypass surgery in August 2010 in Sacramento. I was just 25 years old, and I lost 220 pounds after the procedure--it truly was a life-changing ordeal for me, and I would do it over again in a heartbeat.

My surgery was at Methodist Hospital in Sacramento, and my doctor was Dr. Afshin Eslami. Dr. Aaryan Koura, who was also a surgeon, has since left California.

Dr. Eslami is a great gastric bypass surgeon who really knows his stuff, and he's great with aftercare and is up-to-date with the latest and greatest techniques.

He uses surgical binders to help prevent your stomach fat jiggling around post-op, which causes pain because jiggling stretches the incisions.

He also prescribes antacids after gastric bypass surgery to precent ulcers and other acid and heartburn issues. Ulcers after gastric bypass are fairly common, because after surgery the stomach acid from the "pouch" (or new, smaller stomach) hits a part of the intestine directly, and that part of the intestine is not accustomed to direct stomach acid so sometimes that acid burns a hole in the intestine and causes a bleeding ulcer.

Most patients say the worst part about the post-op experience in the hospital are gas pains, but I never had any gas-related pain whatsoever until a few years after surgery.

Because the stomach is so small, any amount of gas causes it to stretch out immensely, resulting in some pretty sharp and painful bloating-like pain in your abdomen. I pop a few Beano whenever I have gas pains now and it usually does the trick, but apparently this is a bigger issue for most post-ops.

Luckily it wasn't an issue for me at all. It still hasn't been very problematic for me--hopefully it stays that way forever.

For me, the biggest struggle post-op was forcing myself NOT to eat sugar, especially liquid sugar, because of the dreaded "dumping syndrome" that gastric bypass patients suffer from.

I had dumping syndrome at the drop of a hat right after my surgery. I had some liquid Tylenol (everything post-op has to be liquid only, because your stomach after gastric bypass surgery is about the size of a golf ball or walnut, and it's inflamed so only liquids can pass through in the days just after the surgery) that had a small amount of sugar in it.

I took a dose of the Tylenol and about 2 minutes later, WHAM, I got my first introduction to the gastric bypass dumping syndrome.

Dumping syndrome after gastric bypass occurs when too much fat or too much sugar hits the intestine. The body isn't accustomed to having sugar or fat absorb so quickly, because usually food and liquid sit in the stomach to be digested for a while before slowly being released into the intestine, where the calories and vitamins are absorbed.

After gastric bypass surgery, though, sugar and fat are absorbed immediately by the body, and because the body isn't used to so much sugar so quickly it begins "dumping" and your heart begins to race, you feel sweaty and uncomfortable, you feel tired, shaky, etc.

(For the same reason, alcohol also hits you much faster after gastric bypass surgery, almost instantly in fact--in my hospital discharge paperwork, it even said "You are now a cheap drunk--beware!")

Dumping is an awful feeling, and even now 4 years out I'll get dumping syndrome every week or so when I overdo it on something with sugar. I don't dump much with fat (usually sugar), but I have before and it's a very uncomfortable feeling.

To prevent dumping after gastric bypass, simply avoid sugar and fat. Look at labels because food manufacturers sneak sugar into almost everything these days, even a medium helping of sweet BBQ sauce is enough to make a gastric bypass patient dump.

Buy sugar-free whenever possible; visit the diabetic section of your grocery store. (Be careful with sugar-free candies though, they use artificial sweeteners that have a tendency to make some people extremely gassy.)

Drink diet soda and sugar-free juices, eat slowly, chew well, avoid fruit juices and wine (because it has sugar). If you have a piece of fruit, eat it slowly and make sure it has a low water content (choose a banana over an apple, for example, because oranges and apples and grapes have high sugar and water content and are almost guaranteed to make you dump if you eat too many).

Liquid sugar seems to be especially problematic for dumping syndrome, because liquid absorbs immediately, so be careful. This includes wine (though wine has complex sugars, not simple sugars, so it's a bit better in terms of dumping), so try to get drunk from some other alcoholic beverage if you can post-op.

Also, TEST YOUR DRINKS and learn to tell the difference between sugar-free and regular. On several occasions I've ordered a Diet Coke at a restaurant only to be given a regular soda by mistake, and I always taste-test first to make 100% sure my drink has no sugar in it.

If you can't tell the difference between diet and regular, order water just to be safe.

I've experienced dumping syndrome probably 100+ times after my gastric bypass surgery in 2010--I'm a slow learned and a former food addict, so the learning curve for me has been steep.

But if you follow my advice, you can minimize your discomfort and prevent dumping altogether. Best of luck to you if you're considering bariatric surgery, it can be a life-changer.
 
 
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In the recent ‘Grassoline’ post, we explored the alternative fuels and vehicles being researched, developed and debated in national headlines.

But in this economy, you can ‘go green’ without spending an arm and a leg.

Here are five ways to ‘green’ your vehicle and save money at the pump without spending a dime.

1.) Go Easy on the Accelerator
This first tip is a no-brainer, but it’s an important one: take it slow. Lead-foot drivers waste fuel accelerating quickly, and significantly hinder their fuel economy. Accelerate slowly, brake gently and you’ll save a bundle on fuel costs.

On the highway, wind resistance is enemy number one. A simple rule of thumb: the faster you drive, the more fuel you waste.

Automotive experts recommend keeping your speed at 55 mph for optimal fuel economy.


2.) Dump the Junk in the Trunk
For every 100 additional pounds, a vehicle’s fuel economy drops by 2%, so it’s definitely worth your while to lighten the load.

Remove golf clubs, roof racks, and other heavy items—but make sure you keep the spare tire.

3.) Own a Diesel Engine? Fill up with Biodiesel
Biodiesel, the “clean” diesel fuel, emits less pollution than traditional diesel fuel. Derived from vegetable oils, animal fats and recycled restaurant grease, it makes fuel out of materials that would otherwise be poured down a drain.

Any diesel engine can burn biodiesel fuel without modification. Make certain the biodiesel you purchase is within the recommended grade for your engine.

4.) Pump Up Your Tires
Keeping your tires properly inflated can increase your fuel mileage. The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) estimates that one-quarter of vehicles have improperly inflated tires.

The average under-inflation, 7.5 pounds, results in a 3% loss in gas mileage.

5.) Don’t Drive!
Ditching your vehicle altogether is the best way to go ‘green.’

Riding public transportation, carpooling, bicycling, or walking can help you save you eliminate car payments, auto insurance premiums, and fuel costs. What’s more, it can give you some good exercise too!

If you absolutely can’t ditch your car, utilize alternative means of transportation as often as possible.

 
 
PictureMe -- my not-so-happy birthday
So today is May 9, my 29th birthday, and even Google has taken the trouble to wish me a happy birthday. On my homepage today there's a birthday cake logo that says "Google."

That's beautiful, and of course family and friends have been calling and texting and emailing and Facebooking and Google+ing all over the place wishing me the best on my final birthday before the big THREE, ZERO, thirty.

My cell phone company, Metro PCS in Sacramento, wasn't so nice, however, and felt the need to start my birthday morning off this way:

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A screenshot of Metro PCS's happy birthday wish to me, bright and early at 11:03 AM
Metro PCS always sends me a bill reminder a week before my bill is due--mine is due on the 16th--but sometimes it's a day late or a day early. Metro chose this morning, on my birthday, to reminder me to pay up or my service to my Galaxy S4 is getting shut down, jack.

Thanks Metro PCS Sacramento, thanks a ton.


Metro PCS is cheap and, well, they've earned the reputation of being called "Ghettro PCS" because they're kinda fly-by-night if you ask me, but they offer unlimited service for a fraction of the price and no contracts so hey, they're fine with me.

Just a money-saving advice advance warning, though: Metro PCS text messages don't send right away all the time, and sometimes they don't send at all. But your phone will tell you they're sent, but your friend, gf, etc. will never get the text. Metro is notorious for this in Sacramento and throughout California.

With Metro PCS text messages, they don't always come through from other people either. And sometimes you'll see a "new voicemail" indicator pop up when your phone never rang. But they are cheap and save tons of money and are unlimited everything, talk text and web, so it's a trade-off of quality versus frugality.
 
 
PictureLife insurance for your computer passwords?
It’s a typical Tuesday night. You’re surfing the web on your new iPhone, checking out the American Idol highlights on YouTube. 

You finish your bowl of chips, gulp down the rest of your soda when suddenly…wham.

Pain shoots through your chest, you feel a shortness of breath and your entire body grinds to a halt—you’re having a heart attack.

You grasp your chest, lose your balance and drop to the floor, dead as a doornail.

After the dust settles (literally), your loved ones may be stunned to discover the tragedy behind the tragedy: they don’t have access to your computer passwords.

But don’t worry: Legacy Locker’s one-of-a-kind “life insurance policy” for computer passwords is looking to change that.

The idea is simple. With Legacy Locker (now called "Password Box"), your computer passwords are accessible even after you’re six feet under.  You store passwords in Password Box's system and, in the event of your demise, it provides those passwords to those you designate as “beneficiaries.”

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How would your loved ones get access to your digital accounts if you died?
Password Box's service includes financial accounts, online banking accounts, online bill-pay programs, e-mail, instant messaging programs, social networking profiles—any account with a password. 

This may be important for your survivors to reach out to your friends to let them know you’re gone (though I think they would figure it out eventually).

Or, if you pay your mortgage or bills online, it allows your spouse to continue making mortgage payments or pay bills even after you’ve become worm food.

Legacy Locker, aka Password Box, can even send a final farewell letter to your friends and family after you’re gone. If you’re a social media fanatic, you can arrange for a Legacy Locker representative to publish (or “tweet” for all the Twitter groupies out there) your final farewell on your profile.

Otherwise, how will the Facebook, MySpace, Digg or Twitter world be notified of your demise?
Why not simply store your passwords in a safe deposit box or with a lawyer?

First of all, that’s low-tech. Second, Password Box is proactive. It periodically attempts to log on to systems for you; if you’ve changed your password, it alerts you to update your password in their system.

The service claims to be highly encrypted. Passwords will only be provided to life insurance beneficiaries who confirm your death with a copy of the death certificate.

Password Box, aka Legacy Locker, costs $29.99 per year or $299.99 for a lifetime subscription.

Nobody wants to think about what would happen to their computer passwords after they’re gone. But in the age of technology, the “computer password life insurance discussion” is a necessary part of life.

Don’t take your secrets to the grave. If you use the Internet, iPhone, video game console or any piece of technology that requires a password, talk to your loved ones about insuring your computer passwords—before it’s too late.
 
 
PictureKeeping the old junker just a little bit longer?
Have you put off buying a new car because of the economy? If so, you aren't alone.

New research from R.L. Polk & Co. found that nearly two-thirds (64%) of consumers said they were “very or extremely likely” to keep their vehicles longer than usual due to the economic downturn.

Instead, 81 percent of consumers said they plan to pay closer attention to routine car care and maintenance to keep their current vehicle running longer.

If you own a used vehicle, you’ll likely get a break from your insurance company with a cheaper car insurance premium.

Because used vehicles are generally worth less than new vehicles, it will cost the car insurance company significantly less to replace a used vehicle in the event of theft or major collision, hence the lower car insurance premium.

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It's no myth that older, lower-value cars can save you money on car insurance
Liability rates will likely be the same, as a used vehicle can cause as much damage to other vehicles, pedestrians, and objects as a newer one. So you won't find any help here getting a cheap car insurance quote.

But if you own a used vehicle, it may make sense to reduce your car insurance premium by raising your deductible.

Because most used cars have some degree of cosmetic wear and tear, an owner may find it easier (and cheaper) to skip minor repairs or fix them out-of-pocket instead of filing a claim.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, raising your car insurance deductible from $250 to $1,000 could reduce your comprehensive and collision premiums by up to 40%.

Don't overpay for car insurance. Shop and compare car insurance quotes online to find the cheapest policy that covers all your coverage needs. Simply switching car insurance companies could save you hundreds of dollars each year for the exact same amount of coverage--sometimes you'll even get more coverage for less money!
 
 
PictureGastric bypass, one type of weight loss surgery
Modern bariatric surgery programs offer the latest weight loss surgery options: Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, LAP-BAND, and vertical sleeve gastrectomy.

Let’s take a closer look at each type.

Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery is the most common form of weight loss surgery performed in the United States.

Sometimes referred to as “stomach stapling,” you might be asking what is gastric bypass surgery? Well, gastric bypass promotes weight loss in two ways:
  • It reduces the size of the stomach to 2-3 ounces, restricting food intake

  • It bypasses a portion of the small intestine, causing the body to absorb fewer calories from food  
Gastric bypass surgery is considered the gold standard for severely obese patients seeking considerable weight loss of 100 pounds or more.

Patients with a BMI (body mass index) greater than 40 are usually encouraged to consider gastric bypass surgery.

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A Roux-en-Y (RNY) gastric bypass procedure before-and-after
For patients seeking less dramatic weight reduction—generally 100 pounds or less--LAP-BAND surgery may be the best option.

The LAP-BAND surgery places a small silicone band around the upper area of the stomach, restricting food intake and allowing the patient to feel “full” after eating a small portion of food. This ultimately leads to weight loss.

LAP-BAND is the least invasive type of weight loss surgery. It is almost always performed using a minimally-invasive laparoscopic technique. Unlike gastric bypass surgery, the LAP-BAND surgery is reversible as there is no stomach stapling or bypassing of the small intestine.  

Vertical sleeve gastrectomy (sometimes called “gastric sleeve surgery” or simply “sleeve gastrectomy”) is the new kid on the block.

Like gastric bypass and LAP-BAND, the sleeve gastrectomy is a restrictive procedure—it reduces the size of the patient’s stomach by roughly 85 percent, dramatically reducing food intake. Unlike gastric bypass, though, the sleeve gastrectomy does not bypass the intestinal tract.

Because the small intestine is not bypassed, sleeve gastrectomy patients have fewer post-op dietary restrictions than gastric bypass patients.

For more information, consult the Bariatric Surgery Centers of Excellence by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS).

Interested in weight loss surgery? Want more information? Perform a Google search for gastric bypass surgery and find a specialist in your area. I had the procedure myself and lost over 200 pounds, so you CAN do it.
 
 
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President Barack Obama instituted a new national policy that has already increased fuel efficiency for all new vehicles sold in the U.S.

By 2016, a new phase of the program will require cars, small trucks and SUVs to achieve at least 35 miles per gallon.

Some experts, however have slammed the policy on the grounds that it will lead to an increase in pollution. But is it true?

Even across Europe, strict fuel standards are causing automakers like BMW, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz to make lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

And I've blogged about fuel-efficient cars several times throughout the past two months, with the Grassoline feature post about alternative fuel vehicles, car insurance discounts for hybrid cars blog, a cheerful high gas prices blog and plenty more.

But will improved fuel-efficiency standards in the U.S. and Europe actually increase pollution caused by vehicles? Let’s examine the facts.


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The Ford Fiesta has a fuel-only motor that gets 125 horsepower and over 60 mpg with just a 1.0 liter engine and 3 cylinders
When manufacturers produce more fuel-efficient vehicles, it:
  • Drives down demand for gasoline
  • Makes fuel cheaper,
  • Encourages Americans to drive more and consequently, burn more fuel

Economists have labeled this the “rebound effect.”

In fact, some experts claim that producing vehicles with lower fuel economy is the best approach to reducing pollution caused by automobiles, the idea being that if driving is made expensive, fewer Americans will do it, and those who do will drive less frequently.

Cheaper gas could also make gas-guzzlers more affordable to drive, leading Americans to hold onto their full-size trucks and SUVs longer, which isn't safe for people like me who drive a small Toyota Yaris sedan.

The theory begins to fall apart, though, when one examines exactly how many more miles Americans drive when fuel is cheap.

According to the US Department of Transportation, when gasoline prices skyrocketed to $4 per gallon in June 2008, Americans drove only 4.7 percent fewer miles than a year earlier when the average price of fuel was roughly a dollar less.

Even if gas fell as far as, say, $1 per gallon, it’s unlikely that cheap gasoline will lead Americans to drastically change their driving habits—at least not enough to negate the environmental benefits of improved fuel-efficiency standards.

Additionally, the policy will save Americans an astronomical amount in fuel costs. The White House expects the policy to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of vehicles sold in the next five years.