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How to be a greener driver

Vehicles that run on petrol or diesel are a major contributor to the UK’s carbon emissions. But there are a number of steps that responsible motorists could take to drive in a more eco-friendly way.

car driving through trees 

There are a number of reasons why you should consider driving in a more environmentally conscious  way.

One reason is that it can help to reduce your car’s environmental impact. Driving like this is sometimes called ‘eco safe’ driving.

Another great perk of eco safe driving is that you could spend less on fuel. It might even help to reduce the wear and tear on your vehicle.

The government has announced that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned in the UK from 2030. This is in order to speed up the switch to electric vehicles.

In the meantime, here are some key tips to help you become an eco safe driver.


Eco safe driving techniques

The way you accelerate, brake and navigate bends could have a significant impact on your car’s fuel efficiency.

Driving in a way that saves fuel could help to deliver major savings in the long run. It could also reduce your vehicle’s impact on the environment.

And as an extra bonus, a more environmentally-friendly approach to driving could arguably cut the risk of you being involved in an accident and therefore having to make a claim on your car insurance.

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Drive smoothly and gently

You use up more fuel – and increase the wear and tear on parts like your car’s brake pads – if you accelerate sharply and stop quickly.

Smooth acceleration and gentle braking should be your watchwords.

Keep an eye on the road ahead so you can anticipate when you might have to slow down. This should help you avoid coming to a sudden halt.


Keep your car moving

You use more energy if you have to start up again having come to a full stop.

So, if it’s possible, slow down early ahead of traffic lights or roundabouts so that it’s less likely you’ll have to stop completely.


Follow your car’s gear guidance

Most cars made in the last few years have a gear indicator that indicates when you should change up or down gear.

Following this instruction should ensure you’re in the most efficient gear however fast you are going.

In general, you should aim to change up when your engine speed is at around 2,500 rpm for a petrol engine or 2,000 rpm for diesels.


Don’t break the speed limit

Sticking to the speed limit is generally a more eco safe way to drive. This is especially true on motorways where driving at 80 mph could use as much as 25% more fuel than maintaining a legal 70 mph.

In fact, on some roads the speed limit has been reduced to 50 mph to reduce emissions.

Plus, not going over the speed limit keeps you in line with the law, which reduces the risk of getting a speeding fine and points on your licence.


Should I switch off my engine in traffic queues?

A lot of drivers are unsure whether they should cut their engines when they’re waiting at traffic lights.

This is likely to be a more economical approach if you know you’re going to be stopped for a prolonged period. Say, 3 minutes or more.

This could be the case if you're waiting at a level crossing, for example. Or at roadworks where you can see there are several traffic queues waiting for a green light.

Remember that switching off your engine could put you at risk of being unable to start up again. This is especially the case if your battery is nearing the end of its life.

But this might not be a problem if you have engine stop-start. This automatically switches the car off if it’s in neutral and you take your foot off the clutch.

It should start up again when you put your foot back on the clutch. If you have this function it’s worth using it as it could help you save fuel and reduce your emissions.


Go easy on the electrics

Your car’s electrics also consume fuel, so you could be more eco-friendly by keeping their use to a minimum.

This means turning off your headlights when they aren’t needed, and avoiding unnecessary use of your demister, for example.

What about your air conditioning? This is likely to have a bigger impact on your fuel consumption at lower speeds.

So, try to avoid using it for shorter urban journeys – roll down your windows instead.

On motorway trips, though, the effect of air conditioning on fuel consumption is less. It also makes sense to use the system regularly to make sure it is in good working order.


Share your journeys

One of the best ways to reduce your car’s impact on the environment – and to cut fuel consumption – is by using it less.

Whether it’s commuting or taking your children to football practice, sharing your car with other people making the same trip could be eco-friendly.

You could take the same approach to longer journeys when possible.

If you’re planning to share driving responsibilities, you might need to make sure your co-drivers have the right insurance in place. You might need to add them as a named driver to your car insurance policy.

It could be a big mistake if you just assume they have a ‘driving other cars’ add-on as part of their own cover.


Check your tyre pressure

Driving on underinflated tyres could seriously harm your fuel economy and your eco safe credentials, as your engine might have to do more work to get your wheels turning.

Check your manual to find out the correct tyre pressure based on the number of passengers you normally have in your vehicle.

It’s also a good idea check the tread depth on your tyres while you’re at it.


Don’t overload your vehicle

Keep the items stored in your car to a minimum – the lighter it is, the more economical it might be to drive.

There’s no need to keep your camping equipment in the car if you’re just popping down to the shops, for example.


Keep your car serviced

Making sure your car is serviced on a regular basis could help you avoid any problems that could impact its fuel economy.

If all parts are in good working order, your vehicle should be running at maximum efficiency.


Plan your journey

Sitting in rush-hour traffic jams and getting lost are 2 ways to waste fuel – not to mention add a large amount of driving stress to your trip.

If you can, try to avoid making long journeys at peak times – consider setting off late at night or early in the morning. If you’re driving at night, be careful not to drive while tired.

And use your car’s sat nav – or a mapping app on a passenger’s phone – to make sure you’re on the right route and aren’t about to hit any congestion. For more information, check out our roundup of the best sat navs on the market.


Make your car more aerodynamic

Roof racks, storage boxes and bike could all increase the drag on your vehicle, severely hampering your fuel efficiency.

Keep additional items to a minimum and remove roof boxes and so on when they’re not needed.


Diesel drivers: keep your DPF clean

Your car’s diesel particulate filter (DPF) is a device that prevents soot being pumped out into the atmosphere.

These have been fitted to diesel cars as standard since 2009.

It’s important you follow the manufacturer’s instructions with regard to keeping them in good working order and keeping your vehicle’s harmful emissions to a minimum.


Don’t leave your rubbish on the roads

Avoid leaving rubbish such as cartons, bottles and crisp packets strewn across the road or at rest sites. Collect them up and make sure you dispose of them properly either at home or in a bin en route.

This reduces the work for the army of volunteers whose job it is to clear up after you. It also means that the UK’s roads are more pleasant to drive on.

If you do leave your rubbish behind and you’re caught, you could face a fixed penalty notice.


Monitor your fuel consumption

If you’re planning on using any of the above tips, it is useful to check the actual impact they have on your fuel efficiency and petrol or diesel bills.

Many cars have on-board computers that show how many miles per gallon you’re averaging. This should help you can keep an eye on how the way you drive affects this figure.

But as an alternative, simply take a note of your mileage when you next fill up your tank and then see how many miles per tankful you’re averaging.

A lot of eco-friendly driving goes hand in hand with driving with fuel economy in mind. So you reduce your emissions and have to top up at the pump less often. Win-win.

For more tips, check out our guide to improving your fuel economy.