Modest changes in driving behavior can improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Vehicle emissions are on the rise in California. This undermines our air quality and climate change goals for current and future generations. How do we reverse this trend? The State believes that urban planning and better transportation infrastructure will reduce driving, but this will not happen anytime soon (even if the State actually funds its plans). Similarly, although electric vehicles (EVs) work well with California’s increasingly clean power grid, they cannot offset emissions growth given current incentives and sales forecasts. So what can we do? We can take simple and small steps to change our driving behavior and increase our fuel economy – start Driving2Save. In large numbers, these small changes would make a meaningful impact air quality and greenhouse gas emissions today and in the future.
As the California Air Resources Board has reported, vehicle emissions in California have increased since 2013. This is largely because of our improved economy (more people driving to work), population growth, cheap gas (by California standards), and consumer affection for SUVs and trucks. When you factor in that many Californians have long commutes in heavy traffic (which reduce MPG and increase emissions), it is easy to see why emissions are on the rise.
These emissions are not limited to greenhouse gasses. Vehicles emit dangerous pollutants that foul our air and damage our lungs. Whether you are concerned about climate change, public health, or both, it is clear that Californians should reduce our vehicle emissions.
The State has no realistic plan for reducing vehicle emissions in the near-term. Although the State’s interest in improving urban and transportation planning (if combined with actual investments in infrastructure) could reduce congestion (and thus emissions), these changes are years (if not decades) away. A case in point: Here in Santa Barbara, we are roughly a decade away from fully widening Highway 101 to three lanes to reduce chronic congestion in our South Coast communities – a project that was started in 2008.
The State’s current hope for reducing vehicle emissions is that 5 million+ EVs will be on the road by 2030. Not only is this highly unlikely, as we have previously explained, but even with this many EVs on the road, California will not achieve its target cut in greenhouse gas emissions. This will require every driver to reduce his or her mileage by 25%. This massive change in driving behavior is more than most people will be willing to attempt and even fewer will be able to accomplish.
So what can we actually do to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions? It is going to take concerted action by individuals. First, drivers need to make small changes to their driving behavior to reduce their emissions. Second, commuters (and their employers) need to take steps to improve and reduce commutes.
For Californians, the most important thing we can do to reduce our emissions is increase our MPG (which will also save us money). From our Drive Smarter Tips List, here are the easiest ways we can increase our MPG at virtually no cost:
• Maintain proper tire pressure
• Remove unused roof racks
• Get the junk (excess weight) out of our trunks
• Slow down a bit on the highway
• Cut down on our unnecessary idling
• Check traffic before every drive
If you want to do even more to improve your MPG and save money, check out the Driving2Save App. We are developing an amazing App for eco-drivers (and anyone else who wants to be a more conscientious driver). By delivering customized pre-drive prompts, driving alerts, and post-drive reports that cover a range of driving behaviors, the App will make it easy for drivers to increase their MPG.
And when it is time to buy or lease your next car, if you do not get an EV, plug-in hybrid, or traditional hybrid, make sure you at least pick a car that has a higher combined MPG than your current car. If you pick at car that has auto stop-start technology or other fuel-saving features, please use them. They can substantially increase your MPG.
If you are a commuter, you should carefully explore the benefits of carpooling. By carpooling, commuters reduce miles driven (and emissions and the costs of vehicle operations and maintenance) and lessen congestion on the roads, which improves MPG for everyone (and further reduces emissions).
But we recognize that carpooling may be impractical (variable schedule) or undesirable (driving with strangers) for many commuters. For these reasons, we strongly recommend that everyone carpool within their social network when it is convenient to do so (e.g., when taking kids to/from school or to/from practices). This is a very simple way for all of us to reduce mileage and emissions while saving money and time.
Lastly, we recommend that everyone take a hard look at restructuring their commute. If you can alter your schedule to avoid peak traffic during your commute, you will not only increase your MPG and reduce your emissions, but you will improve your health and safety and save money. Ideally, employers would support these efforts by maximizing flexible (and staggered) work hours and promoting telecommuting as much as possible. If the government were interested in reducing congestion today, it would work with the private sector to incentivize these changes, which are more practicable than major changes in urban planning, infrastructure, and driving behavior.
These recommendations reflect modest changes to driving behavior. Indeed, there is a good chance that many California drivers are already employing one or more of these techniques to increase their fuel economy and reduce their emissions. The key to cleaning our air and reducing our vehicle greenhouse gas emissions is to turn all of these simple techniques into habits by the majority of the State’s more than 26 million drivers. With just a little resolve, we can do it. Get started today. It’s easy and it will save you money! Please start Driving2Save.