Eco-driving is not a solution to climate change – let’s say that right up front. Cars with combustion engines are a fundamentally unsustainable technology. But right now, I can see 27 cars out in the street. There are no electric car charging points anywhere in the neighbourhood that I’m aware of. The transport system we have today relies on petrol powered cars, and anything that helps to lower emissions is going to help. The electric revolution may be on its way, but eco-driving can make a difference right now.
How much of a difference? An RAC Foundation study reckons Britain could trim 8% off emissions from cars if we drove them better. It’s a modest contribution, but considering we could do it immediately, it’s worth contemplating.
There are lots of tips for eco-driving elsewhere, so I’ll just cover some general principles:
- Keep your car well maintained, tyres at the correct pressure, and remove any extra stuff from your car.
- Anticipate the road ahead to avoid excessive acceleration or braking. Coast to a stop in gear where possible.
- Reduce speeds. As the graph below shows, it takes a lot of energy to move off, and then manufacturers have designed cars to reach optimum miles per gallon right around average speeds. Past that point fuel use begins to increase with speed. There’s a big difference between 60 and 70 miles per hour, and again from 7o to 80.
The AA or Hypermiler.co.uk have lots of advice, and much of it is fairly well known. In Britain fuel efficiency tips are covered when you learn to drive and has been part of the driving test since 2006. It should be more or less common knowledge by now. Many people don’t do it though, and that’s where there’s room for innovative ideas. How can we encourage more drivers to save fuel?
One useful development is that newer cars often have a live display showing fuel economy. That draws attention to driving style and helps motorists to know whether they’re getting the best out of their car and fuel tank. Some drivers, especially hybrid owners, can get rather obsessive about this. There are internet forums dedicated to maximising MPG, with enthusiasts coining the term ‘hypermilers’ to describe themselves.
Another interesting development is apps that gamify fuel economy. CarPrint is an app that reads data from your car’s on board diagnostics port and compares your driving to the average in your city, and the average for that model of car. There’s a leaderboard for the best drivers, adding some friendly competition and kudos to eco-driving.
A gamification ethos is also being used by Cloud Amber, who are developing an app for van and truck drivers. The app displays a green score for every journey made, with a monthly league table for the best drivers.
Fleet operators already have similar tools at their disposal. Stagecoach uses a system called Green Road, which monitors their large national fleet of coaches and buses. The system gives feedback and advice to drivers on the road, and gives supervisors a way of assessing employees’ performance. There’s also a financial incentive involved: drivers earn green points, which determine their share of the bonus pool at the end of the year.
Reader Malcolm Rooney told me about his experiences recently: “I have a Diesel Skoda Octavia and actually managed 100mpg on a recent motorway trip driving around 55 / 56 mph. I should say that the road in question is in Scotland, from Dundee to Aberdeen, and is generally not too busy. So I did not have a queue of cars following behind. I tend to tuck in behind lorries and because the road I was on was a dual carriageway the speed limit was 50mph. If I need to overtake I increase my speed as required.”
What are your own experiences of eco driving? Any tips you would recommend?