Climaction Society

How we drive


The last few articles have looked at the inter-linkage between transport and our climate. While choosing a Bus Rapid Transit System for our cities is a great long term choice, what can we do today?

Let’s recap. Transport has a large CO2 emissions footprint: about 13-15% of total global greenhouse emissions are caused by transport. Road transport contributes ~70% of this. And most road transport vehicles are cars, trucks or two wheelers driven by people like us.

And while it will take time for auto companies to invest in more fuel efficient technologies especially in the current cheap oil environment, we can achieve substantial CO2 emission savings by “how” we drive. And, this change is not technological, it’s behavioural. The typical gap between ideal fuel average for a car and actual fuel average for a car is about 30%. Some of that has to do with the “stop-and-go” traffic that we are accustomed to but a lot of that has to do with “how” we drive.

Long ago, when I was a teenager, I used to favour what experts call the “Jack Rabbit” style of driving.

This involves driving fast, braking hard and driving fast again. Fuelled by a potent mix of impatience and inexperience, the “Jack Rabbit” style results in an unimpressive four per cent reduction in travel time and increases emissions by five times.

The next is driving speed on the highway. It’s macho to drive fast. Hell, it’s thrilling to drive fast. Wind racing through the hair, music blasting. You feel young and alive. Alas! It is not good for the environment. The peak of fuel efficiency on the highway for many cars is around 90 kmph (about 40-50 kmph for motorbikes) and slower for trucks (60 kmph). Again the key is to keep the engine rpm constant. In TVS company, even before the advent of GPS, there was a system of Tachographs installed in the trucks to monitor the speed and stoppage of all vehicles. That way it was ensured that the drivers drove to a constant speed and managed the fuel average.

The third is tyre pressure. The only behavioural change required here is to check the tyre pressure once a week and set it to the maximum recommended pressure as per the manufacturer’s guideline. This practice promotes safety as well as increased fuel average. And given that this is one of the most ignored driving habits, it offers the most potential for improvement.

The fourth is getting one’s vehicle serviced frequently so that not too much energy is lost to frictional losses.

The fifth again is a rookie mistake – driving at a lower gear. You can do more damage to the environment (not to mention your vehicle) by driving in the first gear for extended periods of time rather than shifting to a higher gear. There are many more, but I will stop here. Why? Because these suggestions are less than useless words on a paper if they don’t translate into action.

Let us divide the readers of this column into two: the “value” conscious customer and the pleasure seeker. These are not binary states but form two ends of a spectrum – we all lie in different points along it. Those of you who lie on the value end of the spectrum will follow all of the points listed above and will probably add 10 more to the list. Those who lie on the pleasure seeking end of the spectrum will say “I want to rev up my engine so hard that people in the next city should hear me.”

I now write to those who lie on the value-half of the spectrum: perhaps you did not know that some of these things could make this much of a difference, but perhaps it was not so visible. Here is an example: Assume you own a motorbike driving 50 km per day. Assuming a 50 kmpl fuel average, a 20% improvement through behavioural change, translates to a Rs.5,000 saving per year.

On a monthly income of Rs. 15,000, that’s a 2.5% saving. Similarly for a person earning Rs. 30,000 and

drives a car with a 20 kmpl average, the savings translate to 4% of their income. But look at it another way, by saving the petrol, you also save 200 kg of CO2 (for a bike) or 600 kg of CO2 (for a compact car) every year that would have otherwise been emitted. Put this in perspective, an average Indian emits about 1.6 tons of CO2 per year. By just driving more sensibly, you can save 13% to 35% of that. (An average Indian does not own a motor bike or a car, but leave that aside for now).

Onto the pleasure seeking side: emissions are not cool. An inappropriately inflated tyre is not safe.

Driving like a “Jack Rabbit” makes you look like a rookie. Enough said.

(Climaction is a fortnightly column that is published in MetroPlus Weekend on alternate Fridays. The views expressed in the articles are those of the author.)

The next article in this series will appear on September 4.

Feedback and questions may be e-mailed to

(Mridula Ramesh is the Executive Director of Sundaram Textiles. She is also a student and teacher of global warming.)

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Printable version | Oct 31, 2020 8:19:04 AM |

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