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Opinion – DriveSmart BC – Slow Down, Breathe Easier

I’m in a world of mixed messages. Some are real, some are emotional, some are false and some come from the government. The one that I would like to tackle here might be a bit odd for DriveSmartBC but the consequences could be related back to safety. I’m thinking about travel speed and fuel economy because the faster you go, the more it costs, probably in more ways than one.

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Whether you believe in global warming or not, I’m sure that none of us would happily breathe sitting next to the exhaust pipes of our vehicles. What comes out of that pipe, regardless of the current technology to reduce emissions incorporated into the vehicle, would harm us. The situation is significant as the Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Vehicle Emissions Standards) Act Policy Intentions Paper suggests that 40% of transportation emissions come from light vehicles and amounts to about 9.5 million tons annually.

Common sense tells us that doing what we can to reduce what comes out of the tailpipe would be a good thing for our health. Information from both the Greater Vancouver Regional District and the Province of British Columbia confirms it.

In 2008 the provincial government enacted the Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Vehicle Emissions Standards) Act. By this year, the Act was supposed to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 30% relative to the vehicle fleet current then. The act has never been proclaimed in force.

According to information published by Natural Resources Canada, in terms of fuel consumption versus speed, the “sweet spot” for light vehicle operation is between 50 and 80 km/h. It appears from the graph shown on the page that the most efficient speed to travel is just over 60 km/h.

I was not able to find a similar resource for heavy vehicles, but Cummins (a diesel engine manufacturer) seems to indicate that fuel consumption is more efficient at speeds of 90 km/h and slower.

How does this compare with the recent speed changes on B.C. highways? An increase in speeds above about 60 km/h means an exponential increase in fuel consumption. Increased fuel consumption means both an increase in greenhouse gas production along with various other pollutants in vehicle exhaust. The mixed message I see here is that we want to reduce pollution, but you are now being facilitated to drive in a manner that makes the situation worse.

The manner in which you operate your vehicle, regardless of the speed limit, also plays a significant role in fuel economy. Accelerating gently, maintaining a steady speed, anticipating traffic, avoiding high speeds and coasting to decelerate contributes to fewer dollars spent at the pump and reduced emissions.

Even if we don’t debate how fast we should go when we drive, the other fuel saving behaviours are also safety enhancing tactics for drivers. To use them successfully we have to pay attention to the driving task, anticipate what others are going to do and adjust accordingly. These should be basic driving habits.

The connection between saving money at the pump, breathing a little more easily and being a safe driver might now be a bit clearer. If you don’t like that old hack “Speed Kills!” in relation to maximum speeds, it might make some sense to change it to “Slow Down, Breathe Easier.”

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Constable Tim Schewe (Retired)

DriveSmartBC: Where better than average drivers satisfy their curiosity.

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