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7 habits of highly effective driving


After practice, Warren hosted a pool party. I dashed home after practice to shower before heading over, and asked Kris if he wanted to go, too. He did, and off we went. On the way over, we passed a half dozen gas stations, and sat at a left turn signal as it cycled twice because the people in front of us didn't actually go when the light turned green. As the light cycled the second time, Kris asked me, "With the price of gas, have people changed their driving habits?"

I thought about his question for a moment.

I can now measure my car trips in dollars painfully spent, in contrast to when I had my CRX That car went 45 miles to the gallon when I bought the car, more than 35 miles per gallon when I sold it 150,000 miles later. I recall when gas rose to $1.49 and I was driving that car: I freaked and decided I really didn't need gas yet, and didn't buy gas at that time. So, with great gas mileage and cheap gas, each mile was less than 3¢ a piece. Not really worth worrying about at the time.

Now, with the not fuel efficient car I drive, I struggle to get 25 miles per gallon. If I drive my normal style, I manage about 20 miles per gallon, but even that's hard sometimes: the car is just too much fun to drive and FAR too easy to accelerate rapidly. As Andy told me, "your car makes me forget I want a fuel efficient car." Makes me forget, too.

In the last few months, I've started driving less. I was already trying to walk or train as much as I can. It might be time to pull the bike from its hanger, put on different tires, replace the seat and start biking, too.

When I do drive, I've been trying to drive more slowly, too. Despite my too frequent (at least recently, anyway) needs to accelerate hard, I've managed to drop my average speed by 5-8 miles per hour (which is HUGE for me). I'm been mostly inspired by Megan's 50 miles per tank increase by driving the speed limit and accelerating rationally, rather than Kris' 59 miles per gallon in his hybrid (good lord, is that intimidating, good thing I drive so much less than he does).

So, I answered, "Yes. I drive less. I know that my mom drives less, too. Since my trips can be measured in dollars, like driving to the City costs me more than taking the train does, I've been driving less. Other people have been, too."

"No, that's not what I meant," Kris answered, then continued. "I don't mean driving less, I mean driving more efficiently."

"Oh, you mean, not accelerating hard, then braking hard to stop?"


"Then, no, they haven't changed their driving habits."

Which is sad, really, as small changes in driving styles can have a HUGE impact on fuel efficiency. I've adopted some of Kris' driving habits, though I really can't, and probably never will like, drive less than 55 miles per hour on the freeway (except for that instant I accelerate THROUGH 55 miles per hour on my way to 65). The habits I HAVE adopted include:

  1. Slower acceleration

    My MPH drops to less than 5 MPG when I accelerate hard in my car. Right. Five. That's a dollar per mile. By accelerating more slowly than the normal driver, I manage to keep the fuel efficiency up around 17 miles per gallon when I accelerate. Not great, but not as bad as it could be.

  2. More space between cars

    I wasn't really sure which order to put this, but this habit is related to the slower deceleration habit. I've started leaving more space between the car in front of me and my car. By leaving more space, I'm able to just lift my foot off the gas pedal and let the car coast to slow down, using both the road friction and engine/car friction to slow down the car. If I have enough space, I can also take the car out of gear to coast farther.

    Leaving more space between my car and the car in front of me also helps minimize the caterpillar effect that you see on freeways where everyone slows down for no reason that anyone can see at the time, because someone minutes or hours before braked hard, causing the driver behind him to brake hard, causing a cascading effect that ruins fuel efficiency for EVERYONE on the road. If everyone tried minimize this problem, we'd ALL benefit.

  3. Slower deceleration

    A hard deceleration means I was driving faster than I needed to when I approached where I'm stopping. Sometimes, I can't help but decelerate quickly (say, a light turns yellow and I won't make it through the intersection, or a car in front of me brakes suddenly and quickly, or something else in front of me requires a hard acceleration in the negative direction), but I try to minimize those events by leaving more space between my car and the car in front of me.

    Often, by decelerating more slowly (say, by coasting), the event causing me to stop (say, a red light) rectifies itself and I don't need to waste gas by accelerating back up to speed. Bonus!

  4. Drive more slowly

    Deciding to drive more slowly has helped not only my fuel economy, but it has also helped reduce my stress levels. Really, it's OKAY if someone pulls in front of me on the road (as long as they FREAKIN' accelerate so that I don't have to slow down - I can't STAND when people put out in front of me and slow down - WTF are those people thinking?), I'm driving from point A to point B. Arriving there safely is FAR more important than arriving there quickly.

    Sometimes I'm late, and I need to drive quickly. I've tried to leave earlier than I think I need to, in order to minimize those driving needs. Not easy, given my usual late self, but being aware of the problem is the first step.

  5. Drive at the car's sweet spot

    Cars have spots where they are most efficient, usually at a particular RPM. The sweet spot can be hard to find in many cars, but finding it is way worth the effort in terms of fuel efficiency.

    I found the sweet spot in my car and Kris' car by accelerating (slowly!), then letting up on the gas pedal slightly. The car's sweet spot is usually where the engine "idles" in gear: you don't have to put much pressure on the gas pedal, but the car continues at the same speed. I'm not describing it well, but I know that Kris' car's sweet spot is at 57 MPH in 5th gear.

  6. Take the car out of gear when possible

    A car's engine running at 1000 RPM is going to be more efficient that a car's engine running at 3000 RPM, or, hey, even 2000 RPM. If I'm going down hill and can safely take the car out of gear (IN A MANUAL transmission vehicle, mind you), I will. I sometimes do the same when driving on flat ground, but that's usually when I'm trying to figure out how far I can go from my current speed.

    I started this habit, actually, back at Tech, when I learned that you could, if you tried, exit the 280 in Eagle Rock and, if you're going fast enough, and time the lights well, you can coast from the 280 all the way to the parking lot of Tommy's Chili Burgers. Sounds easier than it is, I'd like to say.

  7. Turn off the car

    Kris' car does this automatically when the car is stopped and out of gear. My car doesn't do this. However, if I know the timing of the reason why I needed to stop (I just missed the light and I'll be sitting through a long red light, the truck in front of me is doing an Austin Powers U-turn and will take 20 minutes to finish), I will turn off the car, and restart it when it needs to be on.

    One item I didn't list in my reasons for stopping was "waiting in line at In-N-Out." I didn't add that because I find waiting in drive-through lines INCREDIBLY wasteful. There's no reason to be that lazy, and that wasteful. Turn off the car and walk into the store, people.

    I also didn't add "wait for my kid to leave school so that I can pick her up." I find that habit of parents to be the MOST HYPOCRITICAL action EVER. You're spewing car exhaust and pollutants into the air RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR CHILD'S SCHOOL. You know that children who go to schools next to large roads have lower test scores on standardized tests, right? Don't harm your child with this moronic habit. WALK your kid to school, or turn off the car.

  8. Time the lights

    The less you have to decelerate then accelerate when driving, the less gas you waste. An internal combustion engine is most efficient at a steady state (which is why highway driving fuel efficiency is typically better than "city driving" fuel efficiency: you have less acceleration and decelerations which wastes gas. Of course, if you're driving in stop-and-go traffic, then highway driving is really bad "city driving" and you should think about when you're out driving.

    One way to minimize the acceleration/deceleration on city streets is to time the lights if you can. That usually means giving more space between cars, and slower deceleration if you can.

    Starting from a complete stop will use more gas than starting from a rolling start (look up static vs dynamic friction for why), so timing the lights and not actually stopping will reduce fuel usage and increase efficiency.

  9. Walk or bike

    Of course, not driving means not using gas, and hence having the BEST gas mileage. Walking and biking aren't always possible. When they are, however, they are the most gas efficient mode of transportation. Less polluting, too.

Okay, really, that was nine. But, hey, my list doesn't sound as good if it doesn't match the book title.

And there you go. Those are the driving habits Kris has, and the ones I'm trying (more or less successfully) to adopt.