Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Conservative conservation

Worried about the high price of gasoline? Here’s a new idea to get drivers to reduce its use voluntarily: Simply make all drivers continually aware of how their individual driving techniques are burning more or less fuel, and most people will voluntarily moderate their behavior to use less gasoline and save money. If people could see a real-time display of how their driving habits are affecting their vehicle’s estimated fuel consumption, it would likely do as much to lower the nation’s total use of gasoline as proposed government mandates to slightly raise the fuel efficiency of all new cars. Some car models do offer a fuel consumption display, shown as estimated miles-per-gallon being used, but many do not. And even in the cars that already possess this type of readout, it may be only one dashboard display option that is not necessarily always on and visible to the driver. If your car has this feature, I encourage you to leave it on while you’re driving and see for yourself whether it helps reduce your fuel consumption. Even some hybrid car drivers are reported to react to their own dashboard fuel consumption display by trying to get even better fuel economy. When I have a miles-per-gallon display in a rental car, it does reduce my use of the gas pedal a bit and makes better fuel consumption a challenge, even a game. In this game, the cash prize is the price saved at the pump during my next fill-up. Immediate, continual miles-per-gallon feedback to the driver would provide a powerful incentive to change by creating new and more fuel-efficient driving habits. We’ve already removed the lead from our gasoline; why not take the lead out of our own feet, to avoid giving excessive “pedal to the metal”? Unnecessarily heavy use of the gas pedal is notorious for guzzling great gobs of gas, so why not make it painfully obvious to the driver that it is costing real money? It’s time for manufacturers to start offering dashboard displays with continual current-miles-per-gallon-consumed readouts in all new cars. The minor added cost per vehicle could quickly be recovered by even a minor adjustment to our driving habits. And it would still be our own capitalist, market-driven choice how much gas each of us uses, not a dictatorial government mandate. We’d just have a better tool to inform our choices and remind us of the true cost of inefficient driving techniques. I bet we’d use a lot less gas, as a nation. Are you listening, Washington?

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