Using Instant Feedback for “Eco-Driving”
There are a number of techniques to reduce fossil fuel consumption through by altering driving behavior. Photo by Hamed Saber.

There are a number of techniques to reduce fossil fuel consumption by altering driving behavior. Photo by Hamed Saber.

Researchers at the University of California are developing a study on how drivers change their behavior when they have access to instantaneous information on the efficiency of their driving.

The first-of-its-kind study, led by UC Berkeley, UC Riverside and UC Davis, attempts to quantify the effects of efficiency-conscious driving, known as “eco-driving,” a way of altering driving behavior to reduce fuel use and, consequently, emissions. Strategies like “shifting to a higher gear as soon as possible, maintaining steady speeds, anticipating traffic flow, accelerating and decelerating smoothly [and] keeping the vehicle in good maintenance” can yield improvements of 5 to 15 percent in fuel economy, according to a pilot evaluation from UC Riverside.

Eco-driving technology is already available to monitor the effect of these types of behaviors, provide specific information for drivers on vehicle health, and interpret issues like tire pressure, among “3,000 trouble codes in modern vehicles.” This technology is also available in some newer hybrid vehicles.

Researchers will compare driving behavior with and without feedback from real-time instruments, called Eco-Way devices, which will be installed on the cars of study subjects. The equipment allows drivers to monitor data over week-long periods and through trip logs. Drivers will also complete a driver survey at the end and beginning of the study.

“This is the first U.S. study on eco-driving that establishes a baseline so that the impact of the device feedback on driving behavior can be measured,” says Susan Shaheen, co-director of Transportation Sustainability Research Center and principal investigator of the study. The study builds off a similar report from UC Riverside, which did not have a baseline without the devices. “Other studies have mainly used ‘static’ eco-driving data, relying on participants’ self-reported changes in their behavior in response to exposure to eco-driving brochures and websites,” the press release says. The latest study is more extensive, involving 30 participants who will use 10 eco-driving devices over an eight-month period.

Eco-driving technology and behaviors can be implemented immediately, with little cost and investment in transportation infrastructure, supporters of the technology say. It’s also a simple way of reducing transportation-related carbon emissions. The final report is expected to be published in the spring of 2012.

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