Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Smart Driving Benefits Us and the Planet

Fuel price sticker shock. (Casey Fiesler. Flickr)

Wayne Michaud

Smart driving, which is also known as eco-driving, green driving or just “driving more efficiently,” is a method of driving that really matters because practicing it can have a positive effect for each one of us and the planet:

  • Reducing CO2 emissions that have an impact on our climate.
  • Reducing fossil fuel consumption to keep some oil in the ground.
  • Improving air quality and health.
  • Making us safer drivers.
  • Reducing the amount of money spent in fuel use and maintenance.

We’re going to focus mostly on the last point, because most drivers can best be swayed to change behavior when cost is involved. These days, as fuel prices at the pump have spiked mainly due to a war, people are saying, “Is this for real?” Smart driving can reduce costs whether a gallon of gas is $4.29 or $3.29, even if the vehicle is an inefficient gas guzzler. Case in point: nearly 50 years ago, when I drove a muscle car, the Arab oil embargo hit. As the cost of gasoline suddenly increased by more than 40%, I went from being an irresponsible street rodder to practicing what is now known as smart driving methods: going at or slightly under the speed limit, not accelerating hard uphill, and shifting gears up at lower RPMs. This resulted in squeezing 24 MPG out of a dyno-tuned 400-cubic-inch motor!

Here’s how we save:

  • Accelerate and brake smoothly: A great example of this is to “play the lights.” An observant driver will notice when a traffic light has turned red a quarter mile or more down the road. Typically, drivers waste gas accelerating to the light and then using brakes more which increases brake wear. Instead, be a smart driver by getting into the habit of immediately taking your foot off the accelerator to coast toward the red light. Gas is saved as the car slows down some and brake wear is minimized. And then, sometimes, the light turns green before getting to the intersection. You’ve just won the “play the lights” game by not stopping to maintain some vehicle momentum! According to, this practice will increase fuel economy by 10% to 40%.
  • Watch your speed: We all know that speeding wastes fuel. With gas prices at an all-time high, increasing fuel economy by 7% to 14% by observing the speed limit is a bigger deal than ever.
  • Avoid excessive idling: Prolonged stationary warmups, letting a car idle in a parking lot, or using drive-throughs can add to costs. From a compact car to a diesel pickup truck, idling unnecessarily for ten minutes a day can cost anywhere from $50 to $250 annually at today’s fuel prices, not to mention the need of more frequent oil changes. Turn your key, be idle-free.

Additional money-saving tips while driving:

  • Make sure tires are properly inflated; underinflated tires not only wear more quickly, but the increased rolling resistance can reduce fuel economy by 3% to 4%.
  • Store a roof-top cargo box when not in use as it increases aerodynamic drag that reduces fuel economy anywhere from 2% to 25%, depending on speed.
  • Clean junk out of the trunk; each one hundred pounds of extra weight reduces fuel economy by 1%.
  • Set the air conditioning temperature higher in hotter weather to save up to 15% in fuel.

The big win of smart driving is that the above tips will not only save money but will also yield environmental and health benefits for us and for the planet. Increasing fuel economy equates to using less gas and oil, fossil fuels that result in reducing carbon emissions that impact our climate while at the same time reducing tailpipe toxins that impact air quality and our health.

And smart driving goes hand-in-hand with safe driving: complying with speed limits, conducting smooth acceleration and deceleration, avoiding jackrabbit starts, and avoiding tailgating. These defensive driving practices make drivers more aware of and attentive to the flow of traffic around and ahead of them and allows more reaction time to perform evasive maneuvers. Smart and safe.

Technological solutions to better achieve transportation efficiency and cleaner transportation, such as electrification, will gradually overtake behavioral ones to have a much greater impact. And when full autonomous driving hits its stride in the 2040s, smart driving won’t matter much anymore.

Wayne Michaud is Executive Director of Green Driving America Inc., a non-profit that advocates for and educates on transportation efficiency and cleaner transportation. The organization is based in California with a branch location in Vermont. Michaud headed Idle-Free VT in Vermont from 2006-2016.

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