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Global warming and oil dependence are on the front burner for good, and for good reason. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill that began on April 20 is now the worst oil disaster in American history. Meanwhile, U.S. transportation is still almost totally dependent on oil and responsible for about 30% of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. About 60% of that oil comes from foreign sources. Is there anything we can do?
Thankfully, there is something we can all do today, whether we drive the latest advanced-technology vehicle or a junkyard special. It's called "eco-driving." This is a nickname for a relaxed driving style that improves fuel efficiency and reduces emissions. Elements of eco-driving include easy acceleration and observing the speed limit. Just by driving more carefully and slowly, you can improve your fuel economy by more than a third! Trip planning (or "tripchaining"), avoiding idling, and keeping your tires at their proper pressure are other examples of actions that, taken together, constitute eco-driving. More tips are available on FuelEconomy.gov.
Widely-practiced in Western Europe and Canada, where fuel prices are often higher, eco-driving remains relatively novel in the United States. Fortunately, groups in the U.S. are working to raise the profile and popularity of these simple techniques.
One groundbreaking effort to improve fuel economy is Fleet Training on Eco-Driving, a project recently conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in partnership with Wisconsin Clean Cities—Southeast Area. Wisconsin Clean Cities is a coalition in the Department of Energy's Clean Cities, a nationwide program that supports local efforts to reduce petroleum use in transportation.
The project, a two-year initiative, trained drivers who work for organizations with large fleets of vehicles. As these drivers spend a great deal time in their vehicles, the organization gets the most "bang for its buck" by training them. Aided by Milwaukee Area Technical College, Wisconsin Clean Cities selected and trained two fleets: the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works and Veolia Water Milwaukee. Drivers in both fleets received classroom instruction, behind-the-wheel training, pre- and post-testing, and a Fleet Training Manual.
Practicing eco-driving in the real world and seeing the results before and after truly showed trainees how much their behavior affected their vehicle's fuel economy. Benefits of the training included fuel savings, lower maintenance, lower repair costs, and an increase in safety. The incidence and severity of on-the-road accidents generally decline when drivers slow down and drive less aggressively.
Overall, training results were an eye-opener; trainees improved their fuel economy by 13%! This finding was in keeping with a comprehensive Department of Energy study conducted in the 1970s and early 1980s. That earlier study showed that drivers could achieve a 10%-20 % gain in fuel economy through eco-driving.
Let's say you're saving for a shiny new (or used) fuel-efficient car or truck. Start eco-driving today, bank the money you'll save on gas, and apply those savings to your future purchase. But don't stop using these techniques once you purchased your vehicle. Even if you purchase an advanced technology vehicle like a hybrid or maybe even all-electric vehicle, these techniques still make a big difference. Eco-driving is an everyday solution for everyone to cut fuel costs and improve air quality. Forget Sammy Hagar. You can drive 55 on the highway and modify your behavior, for your own good and for the planet.