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Can technology make cars more sustainable?

By raccars Published

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Normally fuelled cars have become far more frugal and have lower emissions than many thought would ever be possible. Electric cars and hybrids can be even less polluting but uptake is relatively slow, so are there other technologies that can help normally fuelled cars be more sustainable? Some car industry commentators think that there are, and that they could dramatically change the way we drive.

The first of these is telematics. These systems are already being used by insurance companies to offer cheaper insurance to younger drivers. The system records data such as speed, acceleration and braking and then rewards drivers who drive more safely. This financial incentive is already changing the way people drive, resulting in far more fuel efficient habits. The trucking industry is also using this technology, along with in-cab video recording devices, to reduce fuel consumption, lower accident rates and cut maintenance costs.

A spokesman for telematics company, GreenRoad, explained how the technology can change driving habits: "Pretty much every driver drives in a sub-optimal manner because we love speed, we're always in a hurry, and we think we're better drivers than we really are." The telematics system gives drivers instant feedback via a simple system of red, amber and green lights located on the dashboard. At the end of each journey this is complemented by a score for the driver’s safe and economical driving. In doing so, the system gradually changes behaviours and rewards better driving, causing motorists to drive less aggressively and anticipate the road better. Drivers are also presented with a map of their journey, pointing out where they drove poorly. Turning good driving into a challenge is apparently a very successful strategy.

Drivers can adopt simple strategies to reduce their emissions along with their fuel bills. Driving at 50mph rather than 70mph, for example, will cut fuel consumption by 25%. Driving smoothly, and minimising stop-start driving, will also reduce consumption. Drivers should also avoid over-revving the engine and switch off the engine while waiting at traffic lights. Even keeping your car’s tyres properly inflated can cut fuel bills.

Technology comes back into the picture with GPS smartphone apps like Car2Go, DriveNow and Zipcar. These have facilitated car sharing schemes where the whole model of car ownership changes and cars become a service to use rather than a product to own. Perhaps the ultimate technology to change car ownership will come in the shape of the autonomous car, where the driving will be handled for us and the cars can be efficiently shared between users.

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