Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Saving Gas by Changing How People Drive

In addition to my regular and customary personal and work life activities, for the past few months I also have been working with colleagues on four new books, under contract and with hard, publisher deadlines. Thus, as you may have noticed, I have been remiss in posting Posts on my blog. Nonetheless, I repeatedly have been observing something that I feel a need to address: how we Americans drive.

We all are aware of the ongoing oil crisis around the world. For example, it is estimated that the world may have enough oil to year 2030 at current consumption, and enough natural gas to year 2060 if all known reserves were recoverable. Moreover, we all are vividly aware of America’s energy crisis and the myriad of posited solutions to it – from solar panels, smoke stack strubbing and ethanol fuel to modern sail tankers and hybred solar lighting. Not only have we witnessed $4.00+ per gallon gas prices, but we also have read about such things as flex fuel vehicles and hydrogen car kits. And as I ride around the barrier islands of the west coast of Florida in my 6-cylinder Jeep or on my 50 mpg Harley – on most roads doing 35 mph and on the interstate in the far right lane doing 60 mph – I continuously see my fellow drivers in their V-8 SUVs catapulting away from red lights and driving 70-75 on the interstate. The thought repeatedly coming upon my cerebral radar screen is: we need to drive differently!

Driving differently will save gas:

1. Minimize driving with a cold engine. Engines run most efficiently when they’re warm. In Consumer Reports’ city-driving tests, making multiple short trips and starting the engine from cold reduced fuel economy for both the sedan and SUV. Engines also produce more pollution and wear faster when they’re cold. To minimize cold-engine driving, avoid making a lot of separate short trips with a cold engine. Instead, combine short trips into one so that the engine stays warm.

2. Drive smoothly. Avoid hard acceleration and braking whenever possible. In Consumer Reports’ tests, frequent bursts of acceleration and braking reduced the Toyota Camry’s mileage by 2 to 3 mile per gallon and the Mercury Mountaineer’s by about 1 mpg. The harder you accelerate the more fuel you use. Unnecessarily hard braking wastes the fuel you use to get up to speed. Drive smoothly and anticipate the movement of traffic. Use your brakes as little as possible, since every time you hit them you are wasting fuel. Once up to speed on the highway, maintain a steady pace in top gear. Smooth acceleration, cornering and braking not only save fuel but also extend the life of the engine, transmission, brakes and tires.

3. Reduce unnecessary drag. At highway speeds, more than 50% of engine power goes to overcoming aerodynamic drag. Don’t add to that drag by carrying things on top of your vehicle when you don’t have to. Consumer Reports installed a large Thule Cascade 1700 car-top carrier on its sedan and SUV. Keep in mind, however, that the effect varies, depending on the model. Driving with the carrier cut 6 mpg from the normally aerodynamic Camry, dropping it from 35 mpg to 29. Even driving with empty racks on the car reduces its fuel economy.

4. Slow down. Aerodynamic drag exponentially increases on the highway the faster you drive. Consumer Reports tested its vehicles’ fuel economy at 55, 65, and 75 mph. Driving at 75 mph instead of 65 reduced the Camry’s gas mileage from 35 mpg to 30. For the Mountaineer, fuel economy fell from 21 mpg to 18. Slowing to 55 mph improved the gas mileage by similar margins: The Camry improved to 40 mpg and the Mountaineer to 24 mpg.

The question I ponder is: How can we get Americans to drive in the above four ways?

In my doctoral education in counseling psychology, I embraced the excellent work by Dr. Soloman Asch, a world-renowned American Gestalt psychologist and pioneer in social psychology. He basically said there are three ways to change peoples’ behavior – in my words and with my pertinent examples, they are:

1. Compliance – for fear of punishment. “I will drive slower because I am afraid of getting a ticket.”

2. Conformity – wanting to be like everyone else. “I will drive lower because everyone else is.”

3. Internalization – knowing and believing what is the right thing to do. “I will drive slower because it’s the right thing to do.”

Obviously there are pros and cons to each of these three options (e.g., Compliance is quicker but only works if the fear is present; Internalization takes the longest to institute but it also lasts longer). Personally, I’d like to see initiatives focused on all three – for example: (1) having our interstates return to a maximum of 55 mph (and I realize the crisis that could cause – we may have to eave for work five minutes earlier); (2) having celebrities and respected members of our society do commercials (“See, I drive 55 mph and am proud of it.”); and (3) convincing multimedia efforts to explain why driving differently is the right thing to do.

I realize that it may take a generation of drivers to see an appreciable difference in the way we drive in America. But in the meantime, I will drive me Jeep and my Harley consistent with the above four gas-saving tips, and I invite you to set your alarm five minutes earlier and do likewise.



Unknown said...

Hi Stranger ;-) Thank you for writing about this issue. I am very conscious of how I drive these days and I wish more people would do the same. Esp those that keep using their brakes for no reason!

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Joy (and if this is the Joy I think it is, the "Hi" comes with a hug)!

Thanks for ths shout and additional consideration for driving more sensibly. Saving on many other forms of wear and tear also is of great benefit. (I furthermore tend to get annoyed by the person in heavy traffic who thinks that by being six inches behind me all the time will acually get them where their going quicker).

Thanks again -- hope to see you again soon,


Anonymous said...

Okay, this may get a little long winded, but stick with me.

I read your blog and like what you had to say, good ideas, but unless people can see a immediate benefit they will not do it.

I drive a car that tells me my MPG as I drive, therefore I can see just how much I am using. Why is this beneficial? It shows me that on the interstate I can drive 55, 60 or even 70 MPH and still get 30 MPG (Downhill). However, I can drive 55 MPH up the next hill and get 6 MPG.

I live in the Carolina’s which are hillier than Florida or southern Georgia, but a good part of the country lives in areas of hills and mountains. Stop trying to maintain a steady speed. We have been taught this all our lives even our national speed system supports this. If you are going down hill, speed up, as you start your ascent, allow your vehicle to slow down, trying to maintain a respectable speed, but none the less slowing down.

This morning on my drive into work, I heard that John McCain is proposing $300,000,000 be given out to whoever can develop a better car battery!? What?? John McCain is also proposing drilling off our coasts, I don’t necessarily disagree, because China, Japan and the rest of the world is going to start doing so, but this is not going to resolve the problems and it will take 10+ years before that oil will actually make it into the marketplace. Plus where are the refineries? We don’t have enough of those either and god forbid we have another hurricane season like we had a few years back.

Why don’t we look at what we can do right now to reduce energy costs? For instance, on a typical weekday morning, if I leave for work at my normal time of 7:30am, it take about 30 minutes to get to work. Why… traffic of course. But, why is the traffic so backed up? Traffic lights. Now I can do the same drive to work on a weekend and get there about 2 minutes sooner. Why… there is a lot less traffic, but the traffic lights are still there. I can leave one traffic light only to be caught at another one causing my gas mileage to never get to where it could be.

Solution, rather than John McCain handing out $300,000,000 to someone, why not pay a university such as MIT to develop a traffic plan for major cities and their traffic light timing? Saint Petersburg Florida has a great example of this. On 4th street or 1st ave north or south, if you drive the speed limit, you will not have to stop at a stop light. Amazing! It is also amazing to see that the speed limit is enforced by itself, why? Drive too fast and you quickly find out that you are being passed by the cars that are not stopped at the light you are sitting at! Now, people get this.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Doug,

Thanks for sharing your experience and excellent suggestions.

Generally speaking, the idea of "attending to MPH while driving" is an excellent one, and slowing down while climbing hills indeed will save gas. I know the roads of which you speak in St. Petersburg and you’re right on the money – I cruise along at 40 MPH and hit every light “green.” (And as you point out, the yahoos in their big V-8s speed up to the next red light and then rapidly accelerate to catch up with us who are cruising along at a constant speed – only they’re probably using 1.5 times as much gas.)

I try to avoid sharing political views on my blog, however, I do wish that we did have a good energy policy in our country – a multi-faceted one that would not only address where to get more oil and gas but also address our driving habits, engine size, alternative fuel sources, etc. As I have said numerous times, “Just obtaining and producing more gas is not the solution.”

Thanks again, Doug – very enlightening ideas!

‘til next time,


Anonymous said...

well , we need to save gas. Otherwise we will blow our earth.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello HMP,
Thanks for stopping by. I only wish that our government and the auto industry would understand and appreciate what you are saying.
Thanks for the visit!