In the mid-1970s Congress and President Nixon lowered the national speed limit to 55 miles-per-hour, in an effort to conserve oil. The legislation met with resistance from the start, and was finally repealed in the mid-1990s.
Today automotive manufacturers are trying a different tactic, with more promising results. Eco-driving is an initiative that helps car owners improve gas mileage on their existing vehicles. But it's not just about slowing down.
By increasing situational awareness, drivers can anticipate traffic patterns in order to move more smoothly. Riding the “green wave,” as eco-driving advocates call it, saves time, and yields significant fuel economy gains.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which sponsors the eco-driving initiative, is a consortium of automakers representing eighty percent of the world's manufacturing power. Their idea is to educate American drivers about practices already popular in Europe, in order to save consumers money, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
Ford Motor Company, an alliance member, recently sponsored a series of eco-driving classes in Phoenix, Arizona, to see if an American program could produce fuel economy gains similar to Europe.
“American drivers use 150 billion gallons of gas annually,” said Curt Magleby, director of state relations for Ford Motor Company. Two hundred thirty million vehicles on the road today need to be optimized in terms of driving behavior.”
Ten years ago, the German road safety council approached Ford about putting together an eco-driving curriculum. In Europe, gasoline has traditionally been more expensive than it is here in the states; hence the proliferation of smaller cars in that market.
Eco-driving became an integral part of driver's license training in Germany: the program was so popular that the UK and other European nations followed suit.
When the price of fuel peaked at over $4 per gallon this past summer, it made sense to bring a similar program to America.
Finding an Audience Stateside
“When gas hit four dollars per gallon, people became concerned about the financial impact,” said Dave McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. ”We saw the largest decrease in vehicle miles traveled in history... People had to conserve.”
McCurdy explained that eco-driving is a complimentary initiative to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007: legislation mandating a forty percent increase in federal fuel economy standards and thirty percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions over the coming decades.
By getting high-profile politicians such as governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and governor Bill Ritter of Colorado on board, the Alliance can integrate eco-driving instruction into existing driver's education programs.