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Backseat Driver: Car doubles as Eco-Instructor

Nissan%20Eco%20Pedal%20Meter_300.jpgBy Hannah Bullock

It’s a well-known fact that a vehicle’s gas mileage depends a lot on how it’s handled. By now, we all know the rules of eco-driving at least vaguely: watch your speed, don’t accelerate too quickly, avoid harsh braking, etc. But voluntary adherence to these suggested strategies relies on a variety of inconstant factors. When drivers get rushed or stressed, for example, these principles are often quickly forgotten.

Nissan’s accelerator pedal, which ‘pushes back’, is one example of an automated nudge that might tip the efficiency scale. Designed to reduce fuel consumption by 5-10 percent, the ‘ECO Pedal’ drops the hint that you’re driving inefficiently, by offering resistance when it “detects excessive force.”

“It feels as though there is a virtual wall,” explains a company spokesman, “like you’ve hit the floor when you stepped on the pedal.”

The pedal, which was unveiled last August, is due to launch in cars this year. The pedal will be accompanied by a screen on the dashboard which warns drivers when they’re guzzling too much gas – similar to the Toyota Prius. This strategy of making consumption visible is often enough to produce a major voluntary shift toward more efficient behavior -- a phenomenon that Alex Steffen often refers to as the Prius Effect.

While the ECO Pedal is apparently clever enough to distinguish between fast driving and inefficient driving, I can still see petrolheads reaching straight for the ‘off’ switch (which Nissan was realistic enough to include). But for the rest of us, I like the idea of a car that ‘talks back’, teaching you how to save fuel as you go.

Perhaps we should just admit that cars can often be greener and safer drivers than we are. For while humans may ostensibly be in the driver's seat, the cars themselves do the hard bits like power steering and parallel parking (with the ‘beep and park’ reversing system), and we trust them enough to flick to ‘cruise control.’ A fully ‘autonomous car’ could do wonders for fuel efficiency and safety simply by reducing human error.

It’s not as far off as we think. A whole host of sci-fi sounding features are currently being developed by manufacturers, including collision mitigation, lane departure warning and blind spot detection. And because the US Department of Defense is interested in the idea – an autonomous fighting vehicle means sending fewer soldiers out to the front line – the money can’t be far behind...

Hannah Bullock is Managing Editor of Green Futures.

Pictured: Nissan ECO Pedal Meter. Source:

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While this type of technology is super cool and obviously a step in the right direction, I feel like it's just putting off the fact that we need to find an alternative to least those that run on gasoline. By increasing efficiency yes, you're saving money and reducing fuel consumption, but you're still contributing to the whole problem.

Where are our hydrogen-powered flying cars? :)

Posted by: Eleanor on 8 Jul 09

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