Drive Me Crazy

Blue Tesla Roadster

Gas prices are spiking, already above $4/gallon in California and climbing nationwide. So, what can you do to save money on gas? The are two answers to this: drive less and drive more efficiently. Driving less requires trip planning, combining multiple errands into one outing and choosing the most direct routes from place to place. Driving more efficiently, also called hypermiling, is about using thrifty driving techniques and maximizing your vehicle's M.P.G.

Drive Less
At first glance driving less seems like an impossibility. Who drives more than necessary? Well, I know that last weekend I had multiple errands to run that took me all over town, including two trips to the same hardware store. By planning ahead I was able to reduce the back and forth driving that often has me zig-zagging across town. I wrote out my list of shopping and errands and made a mental map of what stores I would visit in what order to minimize driving distances. While I still made a few tactical mistakes, I did reduce my weekend driving and burned less gas.

Car Pooling is another way to effectively reduce your driving. I have a weekend job in the winter that is a 40 mile round trip each day. By carpooling with a few friends we reduce both wear and tear, and the number of miles we each drive. While we can't carpool every day, we do manage to share the drive most of the time. If you don't know someone you can carpool with, google 'carpool' for a list of carpooling websites.

Leave the car at home. Whenever possible, I simply leave the car behind when I run errands around town. My favorite alternative is bicycling, but that is only one option. Your town may have mass transit options like buses, light rail, or subways. Don't forget the original form of transit - walking. My wife and I live in a pretty walkable neighborhood and will often walk to the library, bank and local restaurants for dinner.

Reduce your Commute
For many of us the drive to and from work represents the majority of our regular driving. I regularly ride a bicycle to work, which only takes me about 5 minutes longer than driving. Mass transit, light rail and commuter trains are options in many cities, and will soon be an option in my town. For those jobs that allow it, Telecommuting is a great way to reduce your driving.

Another, more radical, idea for reducing your driving is to live closer to where you work. I enjoy driving on an open road, but I hate the grind of commuting. Being stuck in stop-and-go traffic is a modern day ring of Hell. Given how much I hate commuting I chose to live in a small city close to where I work, shop and play. By spending less time commuting in a car I gain time for everything else that I want to do in my life. Recent studies have linked health risks including stress and obesity to the length of your daily commute.

If driving a car is the ONLY way you can get to and from work, then maybe you can change how you drive. The Driver's Ed instructor in high school told us about avoiding 'Jackrabbit' starts and stops. But being a teenager I loved accelerating hard and braking at the last second. It turns out the Driver's Ed instructor was right, 'Jackrabbit' driving is hard on the car and VERY bad for gas mileage.

Being older, and somewhat wiser, I'm working on driving to maximize fuel economy instead of acceleration. This efficient driving style is called Hypermiling and can be used to greatly exceed the EPA mileage rating for any car or truck. Hypermiling a vehicle requires that it be properly maintained so that the engine and drivetrain are running cleanly. Hypermilers are the slightly geeky, gear-head alter-ego to hot-rodders. They work to push the performance of their cars by finding ways to increase fuel efficiency instead of speed and handling. Hypermiling websites have popped up with forums to discuss driving techniques and modifications all designed to improve M.P.G.

While auto manufacturers are finally starting to design and build more fuel efficient cars again not all of us are ready to buy a new vehicle. In the meantime, I'm bicycling as much as possible and I'm using some hypermiling techniques when I do drive. Hopefully, when I'm ready for a new car there will be some choices with radically better fuel efficiency. Or even some cars that don't burn fossil fuel at all.

More Info: Where we live may be to blame for rising obesity

Measuring the Health Effects of Sprawl

Wikipedia: U.S. Route 66

Wikipedia: Hypermiling

Ecomodder: 104 hypermiling / ecodriving tips

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