Drive carefully and save cash this Christmas

By Tierney Smith

Employing eco-driving techniques could save drivers as much as £1000 a year on their fuel bills, while also cutting their carbon emissions.

Christmas can be a particularly expensive time of year, and with many families set to make long journeys visiting families and friends, there is no better time to start.

RTCC and our eco-driving advisors from BP Target Neutral are here to show you how.

According to UK transport advisers Trafficmaster, 18 million journeys are expected over the holiday season this year, with the majority of those taking place today and tomorrow (Thursday 22 and Friday 23).

One in 10 people are expected to travel more than 100 miles in the UK to visit friends and family for Christmas, and Londoners are most likely to travel – escaping the city.

On the busiest days for traffic, journey times could double on main roads, and UK motor insurers AA say there will be a shift in where this traffic is seen from commuter routes to the trunk roads, and the time it’s seen from morning and evening periods to throughout the day.

With 42% of us having done our Christmas shopping in town centres this year, car journeys have been increasing in the build-up to the holidays. The 25th is often one of the quietest days on the road, the traffic picks up again on Boxing Day as people head out for the sales.

Whether it is City travel for your shopping or that long trip to visit your family that is on your mind, there are a few simple tips which will help you drive more environmentally and economically this festive season.

The first question to ask is do you need to drive? If it just a short journey you plan to take, you could walk or cycle, but remember for much of the holidays public transport will not run or will offer a limited service, so plan your journey before heading out.

If you do decide to drive, a spokesman for the AA says: “A few proven eco-driving techniques will save money, is good for the environment, makes the journey more relaxing and makes you a safer driver. Much of it is common sense and about being more observant and reading the roads better.”

Before you begin your journey, certain things will help you to drive in a more environmentally friendly manner. Firstly make sure your car is serviced, the engine oil is correct and the tyre pressures are checked.

With most of the family, plus presents bundled in the car for the trip, if a car is particularly heavy the tyre pressures will needed to be adjusted to accommodate this. The AA also recommends planning a journey you do not know well. Getting lost will mean being longer on the roads and therefore burning more fuel.

One the road

If your driving this Christmas a few techniques could save carbon and money (Source: Highways Agency/flickr)

Many companies offer advice for eco-driving, and while techniques may vary slighting, the general rules are the same for anyone.

Anthony Sale, Eco-drive expert for BP Target Neutral said: “Eco-driving is about momentum management, once the vehicle is moving it takes less energy and hence less fuel to keep it moving than it does to step and accelerate away again.

“It is a technique commonly seen by HGV driver who will approach traffic lights and junctions very slowly to try and avoid coming to a complete standstill as getting 44 tonnes of mass moving again requires a huge amount of fuel. Look further ahead will also have a positive effect on road safety making driving more aware of traffic around them.”

He said it is a common myth that eco-driving is about driving more slowly when actually it is about driving more smoothly.

The three main techniques to eco-driving include:

-Changing gear earlier, at around 2000 RMP for diesel engines and 2500 RPM for petrol engines, the faster the engine spins the more fuel is burnt so by keeping revs lower you could save fuel.

-Avoid harsh acceleration as this could save up to three times more fuel than accelerating gently.

-Try coasting: Easing off the accelerator while still in gear when approaching roundabouts and junctions will allow the vehicle to continue to roll forwards while not demanding acceleration, meaning no fuel is burnt. As the car gradually slows drivers can assess the traffic situation and may not have to come to a complete stop.

The AA also encourages driving within the speed limit – driving at 70mph uses up to 9% more fuel than 60mph and 15% more than 50mph. Driving at 80mph will use around 25% more fuel than driving at 70mph. Their other tip to drivers is not to be idle and if  caught in a queue, and are likely to wait more than three minutes advises drivers turn off their engines.

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The effects of eco-driving could be felt all year round – with the potential to save you not only carbon but money on your fuel bills.

When put through their paces by the BP Target Neutral Team ahead of the 2012 Olympics, Heptathlete Jessica Ennis and Paralympian Stef Reid were surprised by the results.

For Ennis, drive in a more eco-friendly fashion could not only save 2 tonnes of CO2 per year but would mean she spent £1100 per year less on fuel and Reid would see savings of £460 and 700kg CO2 by driving more smoothly.

After hearing the results Reid said: “It’s not a matter of driving more slowly; it’s being a smoother driver. I knew that engines have become amazingly efficient over the past few years, but I didn’t realise there are simple things you can start doing to maximise that in-built efficiency.”

Sale – who challenged the girls – said: “Our previous studies have shown savings of anything from 5% to 75% but on average we see around 27% savings in fuel consumption when implementing eco-driving techniques around the proving ground.”

The AA saw a similar trend when they challenged their employees to a two week driving experiment which saw them compare a week driving normally to a week implementing all the techniques the company promotes.

While most members of staff saw a 10% saving on their fuel consumption in the second week, the top of the class employees saw savings a high as 33%, that’s a saving of a third on both their carbon and on the amount they were spending on fuel.

Contact the author at [email protected] or @rtcc_tierney.

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: UK athletes Jessica Ennis and Stef Reid take on an expert eco-driver at a test track and discover they could save over £1100 a year!

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