We’ve mentioned previously that many of the principles of economical driving run parallel with those of safe and skilful driving. The respected Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has long taught drivers the latter, based on skills derived from British police driving methods, and it’s well worth us dwelling on some of the cornerstones of these skills.
The police driver’s handbook Roadcraft used by the IAM examines all this in great detail, and would be particularly useful for younger drivers wishing to establish an accident-free record. A number of base principles are outlined in its first chapter – avoiding driving too close, awareness of hazards, risk taking, speed, concentration, and anticipation.
It is all based on a system of control that links together the gathering of information, from observation and road signage, and then using it to determine your road speed, positioning, gear selection, and acceleration, all of which are essential to economical driving.
All this helps get you through such phases with safety and, almost always, using the minimum fuel. Unnecessary braking wastes fuel and smooth, and safe driving will see good drivers easing off the throttle early, to arrive at hazards an such correct speeds. That doesn’t mean that you take avoiding braking to extremes, and the IAM has always taught, out of consideration for your engine and transmission, that you should not use downwards gear changes to reduce speed, and employing engine braking to excess.
If you’re driving economically, you’ll rarely disagree with such principles, and you’ll waste very little fuel by holding onto a high gear and using your brakes to hold back your speed on a downhill stretch.
Roadcraft’s road positioning advice for cornering always involves making your course through the corner a larger radius of turn than the corner itself, giving you the best view of the road ahead and reducing risks of loss of road grip; it’s also the most economical course, allowing you to take the corner at a higher safe speed, losing less momentum, and minimising energy lost by braking.
Observation and anticipation are something that any skilful driver will use anyway, but when you’re trying to save fuel you really need to test such skills to the extreme. Approaching a roundabout and using observation of other traffic to adjust your speed and thereby secure space for a clear entrance and exit is a classic example, and it’s all there in Roadcraft.
The IAM often speaks of taking control of your piece of road; obviously nobody owns any piece of road, but what they mean is keeping yourself, wherever you can, away from areas that other drivers might consider theirs and thus avoiding potential conflict, misunderstandings, and consequent danger. Avoiding such conflict also avoids wasting fuel by unnecessary braking, or acceleration, and allows you to determine your own speed and road positioning for obstruction and hazard-free progress.
But, as you might imagine, police drivers need to know how to drive quickly, and making swift progress, safely, is also a keynote of their principles and instruction. Whilst we’re aware that higher speeds generally mean higher fuel consumption, you’ll often be better off speeding up to get past another driver to gain the freedom of the road rather than being obstructed by their often less than smooth progress.
Following behind other drivers who drive on the brakes and accelerate hard is no recipe for economy and you’re better off dropping back or safely getting past and clear of them. So there’s plenty of advice in Roadcraft on safe overtaking which, performed smoothly, and with planning, uses less fuel than making several abortive attempts due to misjudgement, poor observation, indecision, and poor positioning.
Roadcraft is widely available, it’s well worth £12 of anyone’s money, and we highly recommend it.