Eco-Driving Towards Safer, Smarter, and Healthier Roads

June 1, 2017

Proposals to introduce emerging technologies such as connected and autonomous vehicles often suggest that implementation will help reach sustainability goals. While we do not know if new technologies on the roads will end up being more helpful or harmful to the environment, adjusting behavior using existing technology promises a number of benefits.

A technique called eco-driving can reduce carbon and particulate matter emissions and increase fuel efficiency for individual vehicles by driving under 55pmh, accelerating gradually, and trip chaining as well as focusing on proper maintenance (e.g., keeping air in the tires and a clean air filter). The US Department of Energy supports eco-driving as a means for individuals to save on fuel costs while reducing the nation’s dependence on oil. Many vehicles sold today display current driving efficiency and other data related to eco-driving principles, and some car companies set vehicles to eco-driving by default unless the operator overrides it.

A 2013 study out of California found a 2.9% average improvement in fuel consumption after installing an in-vehicles device that displays energy use, while other studies comparing existing driving habits to intentional eco-driving cite 10%-15% improvements in fuel consumption.

State departments of transportation and municipal governments can set policies to encourage eco-driving. States currently educating consumers about eco-driving include: New York, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Oregon as well as the Council of Governments for the Washington DC. At a federal level, the Clean Air Act (CAA) of 1990 incentivizes urban regions to control pollutants included in the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, but does not specify any means to do so. This means that pollutant reduction can be tackled from many different angles – and if an area achieves its specific reduction goals, the CAA does not address a need to further reduce emissions.

In order to both attain lower pollutant levels under the CAA and to reach general sustainability goals, federal, state, and local government agencies can make small policy changes without passing legislation. This may include setting speed limits at or below 55mph, encouraging vehicle manufacturers to include real-time information on energy use, and public outreach to encourage more individuals to adopt eco-driving habits.

Eco-driving policies are steadily gaining traction abroad. At least 33 countries have already enacted legislation pertaining to electronic speed limiters, including Australia, Japan, and members of the European Union.

While changes in individual behavior can make a significant difference in the aggregate, eco-driving policies for transit or corporate fleets could rapidly improve air quality while also yielding significant cost savings. Companies already exist to assist the trucking industry in using connected vehicle technology to increase safety and efficiency.

The benefits of eco-driving will only be augmented by the integration of emerging transportation technologies in the coming years. In particular, some eco-driving techniques complement connected vehicle technology applications such as anticipation of traffic conditions and more gradual acceleration and deceleration. In the long run, this will streamline the integration of eco-driving and provide an opportunity for consumers and fleet operators to benefit from anticipated cost-savings and efficiency as early as possible.

Transit vehicles consumed 1,043 million gallons of fossil fuels in 2014 and spend millions of dollars to fuel their vehicles every year. A ten percent improvement in fuel efficiency would save agencies money and reduce emissions in urban regions where the majority of transit trips take place.

Through reducing speeds, curbing excessive acceleration, and enhancing driver awareness, eco-driving could also help prevent crashes while improving air quality – ultimately making roads safer, smarter, and healthier.




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