By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
The discussion moved to cars and trucks during a family gathering. We began to compare fuel mileage on our respective vehicles with the trucks ranging from 12 to 16 litres per hundred kilometres (l/100 km). I was pleased my little Ford Escape stayed tucked under 9l/100 km when my parents announced their Toyota Rav 4 measured in the five to seven l/100 km range.
“Are you sure,” I asked, astounded by their vehicle’s fuel mileage. Both the RAV and Escape are classified as crossover SUVs so I was NOT pleased. Maybe it was time to change my driving habits to see how I could improve my gas mileage? I decided to reset my SUV’s computer screen to zero and set a goal to stay under 8.0.
Obviously, this wasn’t a “save the world” kind of goal but in the month I’ve been tracking my fuel mileage, I have noted some astounding changes in my behaviour, habits and approach that have been quite interesting. Every change creates change, it’s said, and this little experiment is a classic example of that idiom.
At the beginning of this experiment my car was sitting at 8.9 l/100 km and I was an unapologetic speeder. Not drag racing speeds, of course. But in a 90 I’d go 105. In an 80, I’d clock 95. Nothing crazy. Nothing dangerous (which the lawn might not agree with). Just slow enough not to attract at the attention of the police while getting to my destination as quick as possible. We all have things to do! Places to be! People to see! There is no time for dilly dallying.
However, anyone who drives will know how easy it for 105 to become 110 before you notice. Cruise control really is a driver’s best friend.
For this experiment, I decided to follow the speed limits on area roads. I also intended to ease the gas pedal when taking off from a stop and if there was a big hill ahead, I wouldn’t ram the pedal to reach the crest. No. I would glide up the hill then coast down the hill to get those precious 1.0 or zero fuel mileage numbers to lower the average.
Jeepers, it was hard at first. Old habits die hard. I like to rip-roar out of the laneway but have you checked the instrument cluster when you press hard on the gas pedal? It can quickly reach 50 to 60 litres per hundred kilometers and blow your fuel economy goals. This was the hardest part of the experiment … rewiring my foot to gently accelerate onto roadways instead of charging in like a Spanish fighting bull.
It was also hard to have people pass. I like to pass! But when you have your cruise control set to 90, many people will zoom past while taking a good look at you for surely, no one less than 80 would drive this slow. I longed to slam on the pedal and show them what a Ford Eco-boost could really do (yes, go laugh all you Ford haters but it does have a nice bit of pep for a little SUV). “No, Lisa,” I would remind myself. “This is an experiment. You have a goal. You can do this.” So I learned to nod and smile and send kind thoughts across the airwaves.
I watched the numbers zealously. After setting the fuel mileage to zero, the numbers bounced all over the place and seemed to settle around 8.5 l/100 km. This was better than the 8.9 from before but not near the 7.9 I was trying to achieve. I had to be even more diligent. So I was. Over the weeks, that number dropped to 8.3, then 8.2 and finally 8.1. At this point, I let my partner drive and he thought it would be funny to speed out the laneway and down the road to see my reaction. I was not amused. I don’t think he understands how seriously I take the little goals I set for my life. His antics brought the number back up to 8.2 and it took forever to get back down to 8.1. It took another week of driving to get it down to 8.0 and that’s where it sits right now. I’m driving even more carefully now because I WILL get it down to 7.9.
Is this a silly little goal? Probably. But it’s the “change creates change” part that is fascinating. It’s been said amongst my children that sometimes I can be “rammy” when getting things done. That may have extended to driving. When, however, you drive slow, there is no “ram ram”. You don’t get upset by leisurely drivers in front of you because it means your fuel mileage is improving. Negative reactions disappear. Instead, you find yourself calm. Relaxed. Smiling! You gaze at the scenery and listen to a podcast knowing you will get to your destination in good time because it’s good, it’s all good.
Knowing you can’t speed means you leave home a little earlier which avoids the rush, rush, rush because you are late, late, late. Lateness is a problem for me (there’s always some task to squeeze in before you leave) and perhaps this driving goal will help that situation.
Ultimately, I’ve just found myself calmer. We might be moving into “serene” territory here.
I did a little research to see if there have been any studies out there on the benefits of driving slower. Here is what I gleaned:
• It saves gas and my fuel mileage tracker is proving it.
• It saves lives. Faster driving gives you a shorter amount of time to respond to something in your path, and even a fraction of a second can mean the difference between life and death.
• It’s simpler. You don’t worry about getting a speeding ticket or deal with being-late-stress. It’s just a drive with interesting farms and fields to see along the way.
• Speeding, while not classified as an addiction, has addictive elements that can lead to harm for others
I’m not sure what will happen once I meet my 7.9 goal but I rather like feeling serene versus rammy and that, even more than better fuel mileage, might be the real win here. ◊