V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Drive green, drive clean

Toronto Sun, Sun Media, November, 2007

I must tame my inner demon driver.

I have foolishly elected myself as a case study on how to become an eco-driver -- that is, how to drive more fuel-efficiently.

But that means exposing my road rage-rrific tendencies to a driving instructor who is monitoring my every rolling stop and my lead foot.

As I walk into the Toronto Young Drivers of Canada office, I am beset by flashbacks of my 16-year-old self: The girl who failed her first driving exam because her arms froze as she drove over a large(ish) tree branch that lay in the middle of the road, to the disbelief of her surly, unsympathetic tester.

Meanwhile, Young Drivers general manager Angelo DiCicco has a quiz waiting for me on how to save fuel by making adjustments to my driving. My pulse quickens: Quiz? No one said anything about a quiz.

True of false: The faster you drive, the less time you spend on the road which helps reduce harmful emissions.

False. In fact, DiCicco points out, if drivers cut their speed by 10 km/h, we would save $3 on every $30 fill-up.

Though the term eco-driving sounds like an oxymoron -- driving in itself is tantamount to environmental sacrilege -- for many Canadians it's an unavoidable reality, points out David Armour, president of the Canadian Automobile Association.

"The challenge in Canada is that we live in a huge country. Most of us have to travel long distances to get to where we're going and we want to lessen the impact."

Some Canadians live in rural areas with poor to non-existent public transportation infrastructure, commute long distances, or have large families and need cars to be mobile.

Last year, the CAA partnered with Pollution Probe and called on Canadians to adopt an "Eco-Mobility" philosophy: Conserving fuel while driving, good car upkeep and minimizing distances travelled.

Driving more smoothly, avoiding excessive speeding, maintaining proper tire pressure and removing excess baggage in car trunks can add up in emission savings, as well as the pocket book, DiCicco adds.

"You could save $24,000 in fuel consumption over the course of your driving career," he said. "That's enough to buy a good-sized car."

European countries, too, have banded together to improve fuel-efficient driving in an aggressive campaign that started last year and goes to 2008.

The project, dubbed "Ecodriven," is made up of nine European countries and has the support of the European Commission.

The U.K., meanwhile, has mandated that all new drivers will also have to pass a fuel-saving test starting next year. They follow on the heels of the Netherlands, where their Eco-Driving program has trained 90% of the country's driving instructors, and is already part of driver theory exams.

According to the Dutch environment ministry, a decrease in the general speed limit to 100 km/h would create a one megatonne reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Canada also has its version of the eco-drive program through Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency. Driving schools across the country, like Young Drivers, register for the free AutoSmart program which includes a video and teaching module for instructors. But while schools are "encouraged" to sign on, only five of our 13 provinces and territories make fuel efficiency driver training mandatory -- odds the ministry is working on improving, said Eco-energy spokesman Catherine Ray.

"It's not mandated, but it makes sense."

Manitoba is the most aggressive in eco-driver education, having also included fuel-efficiency questions in exit exams.

DiCicco is now scrutinizing my every driving manoeuvre. My braking and accelerating are harsh, gas guzzling habits that will take about 21 days to undo. My lane changes are abrupt and I'm out of sync with traffic flow -- poor skills that are bad for the environment and my own safety, he says.

"It just so happens that eco-driving is intimately related to defensive driving. The two are synonymous in many ways."

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ECO-DRIVING TIPS

·  Drive at the posted speed limit: Increasing cruising speed from 100 km/h to 120 km/h will increase fuel consumption by about 20%.

·  Don't idle: When you let your vehicle idle longer than 10 seconds, you burn more fuel than you would restarting the engine.

·  Drive only when you need to: Leave your vehicle at home whenever possible by walking, biking, or using public transport.

·  Plan: If you have to drive, plan the most fuel-efficient route in advance.

·  Use your vehicle's air conditioner sparingly: Using your air conditioner can increase fuel consumption by as much as 20%.

·  Use cruise control: On dry, flat, open highways, use cruise control to help improve fuel efficiency by maintaining an even speed.

·  Maintain your vehicle properly: A poorly maintained vehicle consumes more fuel, produces higher emission levels, requires expensive repairs and has a lower resale value.

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·  A single tire deflation of 10% increases fuel consumption by 5%.

·  Fuel-efficient driving can save up to $24,000 over the course of a driver's lifetime.

·  If every Canadian driver cut their idling time by five minutes a day, we could slash 2 million tonnes of emissions a year, or remove 350,000 cars off the road.

·  More than 80% of Canadian households own a personal vehicle.

·  Aggressive driving, like "jackrabbit" starts, increases fuel consumption by 37%.

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