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Smarter Driving Training Improves Economy by 15%

A driver training programme is currently available that promises to help employees of organisations improve economy, reduce emissions, as well as increase average speed, and it currently costs just £15 to take part.

The BMW Group is the major supplier of cars for the Smarter Driving programme which is run by the Energy Saving Trust, and delivered by DriveSense. This means that BMWs and MINIs are supplied, all of which come with a range of emissions-reducing EfficientDynamics technologies, resulting in the cars emitting between 104 and 128g/km CO2. agreed to go back to driving school to see if our driving could be made more economical.

The hour-long session starts with a briefing from the Smarter Driving instructor. Before going out in the car you’re asked to carry out an eyesight test, which may be the first such test for many years for some drivers.

You then take up residence in the driver’s seat of one of the programme’s cars. Our car was a brand new, out-of-the-box BMW 1 Series diesel with just 50 miles on the clock.

The route was on local roads in a built-up area around BMW HQ in Bracknell. The same route was driven three times; the first time was driven as normal, the second trip was under instruction, and the third attempt was all about putting the new-found knowledge into practice.

Each time the fuel consumption and average speed was recorded. The instructor promises that the end result will be better economy, and so lower emissions, but also a faster average speed. Sounds impossible…?

The first run recorded an average fuel consumption of 42 mpg, and an average speed of 24 mph. The instructor then passes on his words of wisdom in order to improve matters. The key is to stay in a higher gear for more of the time. This means entering roundabouts, and Bracknell’s many one-lane priority ‘chicanes’, in third gear rather than first or second.

The 1 Series with its diesel engine and six-speed manual gearbox actually had no problem doing this, but in order to pull this off without resulting in a severe rearrangement of the car’s body panels, it’s absolutely essential to look far ahead and show much more anticipation than most people would demonstrate in normal driving. The idea is to reduce braking, and ideally to never have to stop; all the effort needed to regain momentum is what kills high levels of fuel economy.

Therefore this aspect closely follows the rules of advanced driving. Having passed my Advanced Driving Test with the IAM almost 25 years ago, and being genuinely committed to following ‘the system’ ever since, the element of looking ahead came as no surprise and I was hoping for a good result.

What did come as a surprise was the negotiating of roundabouts in third gear. Advanced Driving teaches you to be in the ‘right gear at the right time’, and third gear didn’t feel as though it was the most responsive gear.

However the exercise proved a point; the third run, when changing up the gears much earlier, resulted in economy being improved from the original 42mpg to 54mpg. Average speed also climbed from 24 to 26mph – just as predicted. This represented a 22% improvement in fuel economy, and consequently a similar reduction in emissions.

This exercise was over a very short driving route. The whole point of the Smarter Driving programme is that a driver makes this saving during all of his or her driving. If a company puts all its drivers through the programme, the carbon savings could be extremely significant.

And the added benefit is that participants hopefully also get to drive the latest products from BMW and MINI, which will be an eye-opening experience for many people. I predict that many people who have not driven a modern BMW Group product will be shocked at how well the cars drive, whilst also delivering excellent levels of economy.

From the perspective of BMW, the company feels the association with an efficient driving programme is a natural fit for its products that feature its emissions-reducing EfficientDynamics technologies. BMW will also be hoping that it will win some new customers from the process – and the company deserves to.

10,000 people have undergone the training so far. The aim is to get a total of 27,000 people through by the end of March 2010. The training is heavily subsidised, costing just £15 per head (as long as the training is delivered to a minimum of 24 people), so best to sign up while places last.

It’s claimed that the training can deliver average savings of £250 per person per year. You even get a certificate at the end of it, recording your improvement, and relating that to how much fuel you would save in your own car based on the miles you would drive each year.

Apart from the economy aspect, the training will result in better drivers through the exercise of planning ahead. This training is a bargain for just £15 per head. And you hopefully get to drive one of the latest BMWs or MINIs – that in itself should be the only excuse you need.

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