A driver becomes an Ecodriver

Ok, I admit that I can be an impatient driver at times, but (touch wood) I don’t have accidents, I get to my destination safely and my passengers don’t have white knuckles. I also work in the environment sector with a work program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, wherever we find them. Transport accounts for about 14% of Australia’s emissions so when my employer, the South East Councils Climate Change Alliance (SECCCA) rolled out an Ecodriver project to reduce vehicle emissions, I signed on.

In my Subaru Forester, SECCCA’s driver trainer Rick led me to a local servo where we filled up to the first click on the bowser nozzle. We then drove a pre-planned 20 Km route that included freeways, arterial roads and suburban streets. Because Rick was beside me, I drove quite a bit more conservatively than I might have without anyone watching; just having an observer can improve accountability. As I drove and in the midst of our conversations, he would frequently write in the table on the clipboard he was holding.

We completed the route and returned to the same servo, the same pump and parked in the same position in relation to the pump. We were recreating the optimal conditions to refill the tank to the exact level as indicated by the first click of that bowser nozzle. Rick then explained we would retrace the route and told me how I was to drive this time.

“Scan the road ahead, about 300 metres ahead, to keep movement as smooth as possible time”. “Keep a safe space behind the next vehicle, watch the traffic signals so you don’t rush up to them and minimise  accelerating away from a standing start.” “Watch your revs”.  “Did I say to keep below 2500 revs per minute”? “Oh, and by the way, don’t over rev the engine”. “Move through the gears relatively quickly”. Don’t over rev, change gears before 2500 revs”. There was quite a bit of reinforcement of this message.

The theory is explained as shown in this excerpt from the program participant’s guide

We would see that the lights up ahead had been red for a while and by slowing down a distance out, we could coast up to the lights, staying well behind the car in front and then move smoothly through the intersection when the lights changed. I checked the tachometer often and I spent a lot more time in 5th gear than I would normally. Otherwise, I didn’t think that my driving had changed.

On completion of the circuit, we went back to the same servo, same pump and same position. When the first click stopped the fuel flow, it was time to check the data, for Rick’s frequent entries in the table on his clipboard provided a detailed record of my driving. This is the before and after record on my driving.

Usual driving Ecodriving
Gear changes 41 30
Use of brakes 18 16
Over revving 10 3
Fuel used 1.92 litres 1.55 litres
Fuel economy 10.41 km/litre
9.6 Litres/100 km
12.9 Km/litre
7.75 litres/100 km
Time taken 25 minutes 25 minutes

Here’s the rub, for a reduction in fuel use of 19%, I was no faster or slower than normal, I used the brakes less often, the gears less often and I over-revved significantly less. And this was against a benchmark of me driving on my best behaviour on that first circuit as I had a driver trainer beside me.

I’m saving fuel, I’m reducing exhaust emissions and I’m causing much less wear and tear on the vehicle. We didn’t check tyre pressure, another significant influence on fuel economy, I was using the AC (it was a warm day, after all) and I had already taken my luggage racks off the top of the car. These three things also have an effect on fuel consumption.

I’ll now challenge myself to see if I can maintain my ecodriving, perhaps putting a coin in the coffee-cup holder in the console for every time I go over 2500 RPM. And I’ll try some more measurements over longer distances to see how much I can reduce my $5,000 annual fuel bill.

Before my training, I had an intellectual commitment to the idea of Ecodriving. Now I have pragmatic self-interest of dollar savings to sit alongside my professional commitment of exhaust emission reductions.

Every driver should be an Ecodriver!

More information can be found at http://www.seccca.org.au/projects/eco-driver/

Footnote: SECCCA has now trained upwards of 150 drivers recruited from councils. The vehicles involved have ranged from large trucks to 4 and 6 cylinder cars. A typical fuel saving is between 5 and 10% over the long term. For a council with an emissions output of 1,800 tonnes CO2 per annum,  that’s a reduction of 90 – 180 tonnes, while that same council that might be spending around a million dollars on fuel and generating that 1,800 tonnes, there’s between $50,000 and $100,000 coming off that fuel bill.

And me? These last four months I have recorded the number of litres and taken odometer readings every time I have filled up. I’m not obsessive, I just do it. I then get out the calculator function on my phone and do my figures.  While city and country driving varies, I have averaged a 14% reduction in fuel use – one in 7 tanks free? Further, my partner reports that her passenger experience is that soooo  much better and our conversation is generally about issues, scenery and life itself rather than my driving. What’s not to like about all that?