Can 'eco-driving' save you money at the pump?

Eco Navigator

May 17, 2011 8:10:27 PM PDT
If you knew instantly how much gas you were using or how many pollutants your car was spewing into the air, would you change your driving habits? That's what a team of UC researchers is trying to find out.

"Throttle goes full bore and my MPG drops significantly," says UC Berkeley researcher Elliot Martin, describing the use of a GPS-like device to get real-time information about how he's driving.

"That type of instantaneous feedback is what could potentially change people's behavior," he says.

The device tells Martin how much gas he's using and whether his car is emitting too many pollutants.

"Essentially, you don't want to accelerate too hard, you don't want to brake too fast," says Martin. "You want to coast to your stops."

It's called eco-driving. The device Martin's using is an Eco Navigator made in China by CC Yamei Electronics, which has an office in Redwood City.

"There's displays here that basically show the driver how much gas they're consuming and how much carbon they're emitting at any given time, and there's also a scorecard that gives you a score as to how your driving compares to either other drivers of the same car, or perhaps a fleetwide rating," says Jim DiSanto of CC Yamei Electronics.

When it comes to full economy, it's not just about how hard you push on the gas pedal. Something as simple as opening the window can make a big difference.

But will a driver armed with real-time information necessarily make better decisions? That's what Martin and his team of UC researchers are trying to figure out. They've installed the Eco Navigator in a fleet of cars in the Bay Area and will study the results.

One thing researchers at UC Riverside already know from their own survey, with or without an Eco Navigator, 95 percent of drivers say they will adopt eco-driving strategies, if and when the price of gas reaches $4.40 per gallon.

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