When you think of being eco-friendly, driving probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, it’s probably right at the bottom of the list (if it’s even on there at all!). There’s no denying that the fumes emitted by our vehicles are damaging to the environment.
While some argue that maybe we should pack driving in altogether, for most people, this is not a realistic solution. So, how do we square our love of driving with a desire to protect the environment? As it turns out, there are certain habits you can adopt behind the wheel that will ensure you’re using your car in an eco-conscious manner. Stick around as we offer up a few eco-friendly driving tips that can benefit both the planet and your purse!
Driving and the environment
Road vehicles powered by diesel and petrol are damaging to the environment in a number of ways. Consider the fuel you use to power your car. It doesn’t magically appear on the garage forecourt in those handy pumps. Oil has to be extracted from the earth, refined and shipped around the globe. Each stage of this process is damaging to ecosystems and risks environmental disasters like oil spills.
Once it’s powering your car, things don’t get much better. The fumes emitted when the fuel is burned contribute to both local pollution and global warming. That’s all thanks to the delicious array of greenhouse gases being pumped out of the exhaust pipe. Not ideal!
The silver lining on this rather dark cloud is that drivers do have some control over the impact of their car use. It’s all down to when and how you drive. Certain skills you may have heard of, like defensive driving and hazard perception, will also aid you in this eco-friendly journey.
Why aim to be an eco-friendly driver?
For starters, unless you’re a complete monster, you should be able to summon up at least a bit of concern for the environment. We all have to live here, after all, so it’s in our own interest to keep the planet hospitable. (Plus, did you see those pictures of Mars—nooo thank you!)
If the ethical considerations are not enough to convince you to change your habits, maybe the financial benefits can give you a nudge in the eco direction! That’s right—eco-friendly driving will save you money. Driving in a way that’s better for the environment means reducing fuel consumption. Less fuel consumed means fewer pennies (who are we kidding? Pounds) spent at the petrol station. It’s as simple as that!
‘Eco-safe’ driving on the practical test
Did you know that environmentally-friendly driving even shows up on the practical test marksheet? (No need to descend into a mild panic if your test is imminent, this section does not affect your result.) There’s a section titled Eco-safe driving, which includes two boxes labelled Planning and Control. Now, calling any type of driving ‘eco-safe’ may be a bit of a stretch, but at least the DVSA is making an effort to promote greener habits.
How do you get the examiner to mark your driving as eco-safe? Well, you can start by adopting the green driving habits we’re about to suggest!
Green driving habits you can adopt
If you’re kicking off your eco-friendly driving journey before you’ve even bought a car, you can start by selecting the right vehicle! These days, there are a wide range of cars on the market designed to be far more environmentally friendly than their predecessors. Take you pick from hybrid, electric or biodiesel.
While we can’t tell you exactly which car to buy, we can advise what not to go for. That would be any diesel model designed before September 2015. These cars tend not to meet Euro 6 standards (established to protect air quality), which means drivers of such vehicles are subject to higher taxes and even fines in low emission zones.
You don’t need to drive everywhere
Before setting off on a drive, ask yourself if the journey really needs to be taken by car. If you’re just nipping out to run an errand in town, for example, it would be better for your health and the environment to ditch the car keys and enjoy a nice walk. Or how about when rush hour hits? You might find that alternative modes of transport like trams and trains can get you to your destination quicker, because they benefit from being able to skip all that heavy traffic.
Save the driving for those nice weekend getaways and you’ll come to appreciate the comfort and convenience of your car even more!
Let carpools catch on
Not keen on the idea of skipping a drive? At least consider taking more people along for the ride. If you notice that some of your work colleagues live nearby, for example, you could offer them a lift in the morning. This often means the difference of one car being used instead of two, which is a great improvement! Just think about all of those emissions that you’re practically cutting in half. Sharing really is caring!
Use the correct gear
Choosing the right gear isn’t just a way of preventing the car from stalling. In fact, you could happily pootle along for miles in a gear that isn’t ideal for the conditions, without even knowing it!
Gears enable you to use your fuel in the most efficient way. As a general rule, you should be using the highest gear possible that doesn’t cause the car’s engine to labor. The higher the gear, you see, the less power is provided on acceleration. If you’re already driving at a high speed, the momentum you’ve built up should be enough to sustain the car’s progress.
Driving at 50mph in third gear, for instance, is a massive waste of fuel—and does nothing to improve the car’s performance. Listen out for sounds of the engine struggling and move up the gears as you increase speed. The more you get used to a vehicle and its capabilities, the easier this process will be.
Now, this is a habit that belongs on pretty much any list of improvements! In the context of eco-friendly driving, planning ahead will allow you to anticipate traffic conditions and respond in a suitable manner.
If you notice that heavy traffic is reported on your journey, for example, take the time to map out an alternative route. This should speed up your trip, thus reducing the amount of fuel you burn. It’s also a good idea to anticipate changes in the speed limit so that you can make adjustments with plenty of time to spare. This will prevent you from having to break harshly or rev the engine, both of which are an eco no-no (more on that in the next habit).
Finally, if you know you’re going to be waiting in a parked position for a long time, it’s best just to turn the engine off altogether. Idling with the engine running means you’re emitting fumes with no particular purpose, so cut it out!
Stop-start driving is a great way to waste fuel and contribute to climate change. Don’t be that person. Wherever possible, use the brake and accelerator pedals in a calm and controlled manner. In scenarios where it is safe to do so, make the most of the car’s momentum. You’ll often find that when you’re driving downhill, say, there’s no need to use the accelerator at all.
A similar rule applies to junctions and roundabouts. As long as there are no stop signs and you can see that the road is clear, there is no need to come to a complete halt. Allow the car to keep rolling forward as you continue to check that your path is unobstructed. Don’t get too relaxed, though—you need to make sure you have full control of the vehicle at all times!
Pro tip: Always reverse into parking spots where possible. Attempting the trickier manoeuvre of reversing out of a space while the engine is still fairly cold will waste a lot more fuel.
Take a load off
Make sure you’re not driving around with any unnecessary weight in the car. The heavier the car, the more fuel is required to power it forward. What a waste! Time to get rid of anything that isn’t sparking joy or serving a purpose.
Now, this is not an excuse to chuck out that colleague we suggested you carpool with. Karen needs that passenger seat, but is anyone planning to use those skis in the boot today? Didn’t think so. And while you’re at it, there is absolutely no point in having a roof rack on your car if it’s not being used. Load it up or lop it off!
Maintain your vehicle
Staying on top of general car maintenance will keep your vehicle in good shape and make all of the above habits much easier to carry out. That’s because your car will be working to the best of its ability.
Take your tyres as an example. Ensuring that they’re always properly inflated means they will be rolling along the road in the most efficient way. This saves fuel, which (surely you’ve guessed it by now!) is better for the environment.
And cool it with the air con! Those gentle breezes actually use up a lot of your car’s energy. This one really shouldn’t be that hard if you live in the UK.
And that’s just a few key ways you can transform yourself into an eco-friendly driver. You’ll be saving money and (kind of) saving the planet—what’s not to love?!