The Thrifty Driving Techniques No One Knows About

Efficient DrivingConsuming less fuel also means emitting less CO2. Photo by Jorge Guerrero (AFP).

The Thrifty Driving Techniques No One Knows About
El País: Se gasta menos, pero solo lo sabe una minoría
Patricia R. Blanco, April 25, 2011

20% savings on gasoline is nothing to sneeze at, especially now that the war in Libya has driven oil prices to historic highs. Though the best way to save gasoline is to leave the car in the garage, experts agree that efficient driving is another good way to cut down the fuel bill. It’s more effective, in fact, than the controversial 110-km/h (68 mph) speed limit the government adopted on February 25 to save energy. So-called “intelligent driving techniques” like going long stretches with stable velocity and starting the engine without pressing the accelerator have been extensively publicized by automobile clubs, drivers’ associations, and motorheads as if they were Holy Grails of fuel economization. But theory is one thing, and practice is another.

“It’s good, attractive, and cheap,” summarized Bernardo Hernández, coordinator of efficient driving courses at the National Confederation of Driving Schools (CNAE). According to this expert, “intelligent driving” not only decreases fuel consumption; it also helps maintain the brakes, the clutch, the tires, the transmission, and the motor. It also reduces CO2 emissions – one liter of gasoline produces 2.32 kg of CO2 (1 gallon = 19.32 lb CO2); one liter of diesel, 2.68 kg (22.32 lb per gallon). In addition, efficient driving techniques, like avoiding abrupt acceleration and braking and maintaining constant velocity, improve the security of the passengers and the comfort of the driver. For example, a car driving 4000 rpm (tire revolutions per minute) makes as much noise as 32 cars going a more efficient 2000 rpm.

But reducing fuel consumption is the immediate priority for both consumers and the government, especially a country like Spain which imports 75% of its energy, including 600 millions of oil per year; an increase of 10 euros in the price of a barrel of oil costs Spain close to 6 billion euros in annual terms, says Miguel Sebastián’s Ministry of Industry . In this context, and with the possibility raised by Vice President Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba that petroleum price hikes will set off an economic crisis, the ministry is advising energy-saving measures. The transportation sector consumes more than 60% of the country’s crude oil, and 80% of that is from road traffic alone.

The government has proposed – or more precisely, has imposed – that until June 30 (for the moment), the maximum speed shall be 110 km/h, which could cut fuel usage by 11%. Efficient driving would yield savings of up to 20%. But is it possible for the 25 million drivers circulating on Spanish roads to quickly internalize a new driving philosophy?

There are methods like correcting tire pressure, not lowering the windows, and maintaining interior temperature at 23-24°C (73-75°F) which would be easy to learn from a manual. Others would demand greater effort and depend on the skill of the driver.

“Efficient driving is a different concept,” says one instructor, “but in reality, it is based on very simple rules” which take advantage of new vehicle technology. Though auto schools teach to brake with the motor, that is to say downshift to second gear or so, it would be more efficient to stop at fourth gear, safety permitting. You can also skip gears – for example, go from second to fourth – and traverse the city at 50 km/h (31 mph) in fifth gear or even sixth.

But not all auto schools teach the lauded practices of efficient driving. “The examiners should pass through a formation process, and there have to be criteria for standardized instruction,” explains the director of the General Traffic Office (DGT), Pere Navarro, who, after a pause, added that from 2012 aspiring drivers should have to take efficient driving courses to receive licenses. For the moment, 800 examiners have taken training courses, although 11,000, according to 2009 data (nothing has yet been released for 2010), have benefited from courses sponsored by the Institute of Energy Diversification and Economization (IDAE) in collaboration with Autonomous Communities (states), in accordance with the 2008-2012 Plan of Action for Saving and Efficiency Strategy.

According to this agreement, the IDAE, which has promoted efficient driving since 2007, “will invest 246 million euros, and the Autonomous Communities 71, making a budget of 317 million euros for our operation,” explained Juan Antonio Alonso, director of the institute’s Department of Energy Saving and Efficiency. Of these, a part – 16 million over four years – is dedicated to efficient driving courses. “In some communities, they are free, though the IDAE’s philosophy is that the user should pay a part,” Alonso said.

Until now, more than 110,000 car drivers, including driving school teachers, and more than 30,000 truck drivers have taken these courses. That is to say, 0.5% of the 25 million drivers in Spain have, at the least, notions about efficient driving.

There are two kinds of courses: for private automobiles and for industrial vehicles. The first is four hours long for owners of normal B licenses and five hours for driving instructors. The industrial vehicle course takes 7-8 hours and is designed for those with permission to drive trucks and buses as well as their teachers. All these courses have a theoretical class and at least two practice classes.

The state of Madrid offered, for example, 9500 free courses in 2009 and 5600 in 2010. In Andalusia, 6662 people attended courses for light vehicles and 1558 for heavy ones in 2010; in Castilla y León, the numbers were about 3000 and 600, respectively.

“People are delighted and change their driving when we tell them they can skip gears or that they spend more gasoline when stopped than when they are moving without accelerating,” says Bernardo Hernández proudly. The average alumnus reduces his fuel consumption by 17%, though the CNAE’s efficient driving professors notes that these are savings after a practical class, after the student has perfectly assimilated the concepts.

The typical student of an IDAE-financed course is a government employee or university professor or teacher. “They recommend the courses to each other,” says Hernández. Transportation businesses also push their employees to drive more efficiently: “it affects the bottom line,” says Pere Nevarro.

Yet there are not enough IDAE courses to meet demand. According to sources in the National Confederation of Auto Schools, in Castilla y León, for example, more than one thousand people could not get into a class in 2010. What alternatives are there? “If you go to an auto school, the average price is 150 euros, and you won’t have an IDAE diploma,” the CNAE explains.

Although the average Spanish driver doesn’t need to be told that he can’t go from 0 to 120, “he has definite room for improvement in comparison to other European drivers,” the general director of the IDAE, Alfonso Beltrán says in support of intelligent driving education. But for now, such schooling isn’t easy to find.

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