Our Scottish Correspondent Richard re-learns the basics

By Richard Allen

Petrol prices have been in the news again. While there is little hope of an abrupt fall in prices, there are some things you can do to reduce a few bills.

In September, our Scottish Transport team sponsored Greenfleet Scotland, which looked at a swathe of green transport initiatives. One of them was a chance to take some driver training on how to save money on fuel. I myself took advantage, and here’s how I got on…

Sensibly, you need a current driving licence for the training. I remembered to bring mine, complete with its photo section, in a moment of rare efficiency. You also have to be able to read an old-style number plate from 20.5 metres, or a new-style number plate from 20 metres. I passed with aplomb, and I was ready to go.

My trainer, Keith, asked me to drive as I normally would. This is important. You are not being tested: it’s for instructional purposes. As I drove, Keith gave me some tips. Change gear now. Accelerate here. What a difference a few adjustments can make – I began to wonder what had informed my choice of gear and my means of acceleration all these years. My technique wasn’t bad, but Keith’s way was better. It was professional. Most of the advice was about reading the road. I was impressed by how much information Keith could glean from beyond the windscreen and with a few mirrors. You have to learn this skill. And it is a skill you should learn and hone through tuition, awareness and practice.

We returned to the starting point, after negotiating our way among late-morning traffic for about twenty minutes, and already I felt wiser. But there was more to come.

Keith tapped a console which gave a reading. My fuel consumption was 47 miles per gallon, at an average speed of sixteen miles per hour. “Not bad at all,” said Keith. Off we went again, same route.

This time, I was able to put into practice all the tips Keith had given me. Or, at least, as best I could. Once or twice I got the gear-changes wrong, and once or twice I could have accelerated a bit harder. That’s right – there were times when I could have accelerated harder, to achieve fuel-efficient driving. It’s to do with the correct use of gears and the appropriate speed for the road conditions. Each mistake was calmly corrected by Keith.

We returned to the starting point. The console was tapped once more. This time, I managed 60 miles per gallon, at an average speed of eighteen miles per hour. I was much more fuel-efficient, and also more time-efficient. The two are related. On my second drive, keener anticipation had allowed a smoother run, fewer stops and starts. It takes a lot of fuel to impart momentum to a one-tonne machine. If you reduce the number of times you have to start from stationary, you save loads of fuel. A couple of points must be stressed. The first consideration is safety, so you stop when you have to. And to learn the technique properly you need professional supervision.

I suspect that some of you think that you don’t need driver training or that by taking part you are in some way admitting to a shortcoming. Think of it as brushing-up on a skill, making a few adjustments to your technique to deal with rising fuel prices and with roads that are busier than when you first took to the wheel. Or as a way to put your skills to the test. Driving instructors have a great way of passing on their knowledge. I enjoyed talking to Keith about driving, and I even booked more training.  

I don’t drive much in a year, compared with many people. But my training equated to an annual saving of £126 and 215kg CO2 emissions. Some of you will save a lot more than that, because you either drive more or because you’re a more skilful driver. We estimate that you can save up to £300 from fuel-efficient driving. And because fuel-efficient driving promotes the smooth handling of your car, there is less wear and tear on brakes, tyres and engine. So you probably won’t have to spend so much on maintenance.

As drivers, we settle into a routine. The way we change gears, accelerate, brake, indicate; the way we watch the road. We usually get by. We often grumble about the cost of motoring, but we do little about it. We try not to worry about the many road hazards: tailgaters, drivers using mobile phones, pedestrians dashing across the road, dogs, potholes, adverts, all the road-signs we have to read, unfamiliar roads. One way to address our complacency, our piggybanks and our sense of control is to start to take charge.

To get you started, the Energy Saving Trust has a lot of tips on fuel-efficient driving. Or try their Travel Energy Check to see how you could save money on fuel costs and reduce your CO2 emissions by changing a few travel habits.

In Scotland you can book training in fuel-efficient driving for only £12 by phoning 0800 512 012, and you can find more information on our website. The offer lasts until the money runs out, so it’s first come, first served…