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Driver’s Ed for MPG

All we need is a simple education campaign that shows consumers how driving a little differently can improve a vehicle's mileage.

The U.S. can save a million barrels of oil a day, without spending a dime.

All we need is a simple education campaign that shows consumers how driving a little differently can improve a vehicle’s mileage.

My wife hates how I drive. She thinks I go way too fast. On-ramps and off-ramps, “esses” and hairpins are white-knuckle affairs for her. But what really grinds her is that I consistently get better fuel economy than she does.

Ironically, at a time when the EPA is going to knock 15% off the fuel economy rating of every vehicle so the new figures reflect “real world” driving, I can consistently beat the EPA label. So can you. It all has to do with how you drive.

Stop-and-go driving kills fuel economy. Once you get a car going, maintaining that momentum is critical. Way back when I was in Driver’s Ed, they always taught us to, “Look up and get the big picture.” It’s just as relevant today. By anticipating what’s going to happen ahead, you can do a good job of maintaining your car’s momentum.

Is that traffic light ahead turning red? Then get off the gas and start coasting. You’re coming up to a stop sign? Start coasting. Is the car ahead slowing down to make a turn? Then move over to the next lane and go around them.

Basically, I do everything I can to stay off the brakes – within reason.

Our traffic departments could pitch in by rigorously maintaining the proper timing for traffic lights to ensure a smoother traffic flow. They need to be checked several times a year.

Of course, you can drive slower, especially on the highway. That definitely saves fuel. But I’m talking about getting greater efficiency without slowing down.

A manual transmission makes it easier. I’ll knock it into neutral at every coasting opportunity, so the engine is only idling. And I’ll short shift going up through the gears so the engine doesn’t wind out past its power peak.

Of course, I keep my cars well maintained and check the tire pressure several times a year. In fact, I believe if we could get all motorists to properly inflate their tires it would do more to immediately improve fuel economy than any other step we could take.

The point is, the average motorist probably can get 10% better fuel economy simply by improving the way he or she drives. And since the U.S. uses about 10 million barrels of oil per day for transportation, we would save 1 million barrels a day. Imagine the impact that would have on the oil markets!

All we need is education. The rest is easy. And free.

John McElroy is editorial director of Blue Sky Productions and producer of “Autoline Detroit” for WTVS-Channel 56, Detroit, and Speed Channel.

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