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.

Op-Ed Contributor
Be the Prius
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.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
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Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
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Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
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September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



June 2008

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