Don’t Just Drive Less. Drive Smarter.
I’ve got a very short piece in today’s New York Times, part of a roundup of writers responding to high fuel prices.
Studies have shown significant increases in fuel economy are achievable simply by changes in driving style (a few things got cut from this piece, by the way, including an obvious one: Cruise control aids MPG — but not cruise control at 70 mph).
One question, of course, is exactly how much a price increase is necessary to spur changes — not to mention those changes are tough to measure. But an interesting study (download PDF) by Kara Kockelman and Matthew Bomberg of the University of Texas of drivers in Austin, Tx., during the 2005 gas price spike reported: “Adjustments in style of driving also appear to be a viable strategy of coping with high gas prices, as significant percentages reported increased attention to vehicle maintenance (presumably to ensure peak fuel efficiency), driving slower, and driving at steadier speeds.” Work by Phil Goodwin has also found fuel consumption tends to drop further than miles driven in response to rises in the real cost of fuel, indicating alterations to driving style.
The Australian study I refer to in the piece was conducted by the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, comparing a Ford Falcon with a Mazda Astina. If you’re still not convinced about the driving style argument, consider this note from the researchers: “A large vehicle driven conservatively can now better the fuel economy of a small car driven aggressively.”
The RACV “Fuel Smart” trial was cited within another interesting Australian study (download here), by Narelle Haworth and Mark Symmons of Monash University, titled “The Relationship Between Fuel Economy and Safety Outcomes.” Looking at a pool of fleet vehicles, they came to an interesting, though perhaps not surprising, conclusion: “The fuel consumption rate of crash-involved vehicles was higher than that of vehicles not involved in crashes.”
Here’s the piece from the Times.
Be the Prius
By TOM VANDERBILT
Published: June 29, 2008
DRIVING less — fewer miles or smaller vehicles — is the rational response to higher fuel prices. But there’s something else motorists can do: drive smarter.
In Europe, where gas prices are often more than twice what they are here, eco-driving has become mandatory in the driving curriculums in Germany, Sweden and, most recently, Britain. Beginning drivers are taught to avoid idling, unnecessary braking and jackrabbit starts at traffic lights, among other lessons that can bring fuel savings to as high as 25 percent.
Other fuel-saving tips include carefully timing one’s approach to slowing traffic or red signals and not accelerating toward a “stale green,” that is, a signal that’s about to change.
As the United States has no national driving standard, establishing a similar curriculum here would be challenging. It may be even harder to get people to forsake the temptations of hurry-up-and-wait driving.
It would be better to provide drivers with accurate real-time fuel consumption information — similar to the “energy monitor” on the dashboard of a Toyota Prius. Studies show that feedback can change energy consumption.
Another approach is to change the traffic landscape. Roundabouts, which favor slow coasting over starting and stopping and eliminate the need to idle at red signals when an intersection is empty, can cut fuel use 10 percent to 30 percent.
The average speed of free-flowing traffic is also likely to drop in response to high fuel prices, as it has already in Britain. It simply costs more to go faster. One American trucking firm has announced that its fleet will now travel a maximum of 60 miles per hour.
Consider also driving less aggressively. An Australian study found that an “aggressively” driven vehicle saved a mere five minutes over a 94-minute course compared with a “smoothly” driven vehicle — but the smooth car used 30 percent less fuel.
There’s two ways to ease the pain of higher gas prices: drive a Prius, or drive like a Prius.
— TOM VANDERBILT, the author of the forthcoming “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)”
This entry was posted on Sunday, June 29th, 2008 at 8:13 am and is filed under Cars, Drivers, Traffic Psychology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.