Limit your driving impact

I USED to pay an all-in cost of £48 each week (in 1997 prices) to have the convenience of a small second hand car. The F-reg Astra was mainly used for those occasional long trips. Cost was the reason I initially reviewed my travel habits, but then sustainability came into play.

Okay, some journeys are car-based with no sensible alternative, but they are fewer than we think! We should be asking whether our purposes could be fulfilled more locally, whether journeys can be linked together and if better use can be made of the car in general.

So, how can you be an environmentally friendly car driver? First, try to limit the total miles driven to save money and be healthy and green. Use the phone, post, fax or Internet more. I use the Internet, for example, for email, research and to buy books and CDs. Working from home, growing your own food and home exercise are green too. Could you localise by living near others, work and facilities? Definitely go to the nearest possible place for your needs since proximity often gives the cheapest and most convenient option.

I sometimes meet people midway. For instance, meeting at a station café might mean neither person needs to drive and the travel costs are shared. Shorter distances also mean walking and cycling are likely to be more attractive. Flexibility can often be a source of savings on travel. For example, flexible hours, compressed working and waiting to link up tasks in a planned way are all beneficial. Also try buying predominantly local goods and services to shorten the transport chain. Food, in particular, is being brought over ever-greater distances and this is a growing threat to the environment.

Doing things like shopping collectively as part of a group of family members, neighbours or work colleagues can reduce travel too. If you get in a 'team' you don't have to do everything for yourself in terms of transport. Home delivery services are worth searching for, perhaps for food but also other items such as garden goods. This way everyone except couriers and delivery people move around less often and over shorter distances.

Car clubs and car sharing are beginning to be established in this country. In a car club a vehicle, or more than one, is owned jointly by members who then pay to use them as and when they need to. There is also great potential for car sharing and rotas within a group of people to, for example, escort children or fetch take-aways. The idea should be to share with, rather than burden, other group members. Taxis or hire cars are the back-ups!

The green car driver should aim to eliminate unnecessary trips and switch to more sustainable modes. How about doing this systematically by noting down all car journeys over a period of, say, a fortnight and looking for opportunities to reduce travel? Options for regular trips can be planned with directories and advice, for example from TravelWise at Choose the best modes, partners, maps, directions, routes, frequencies, timetables and stops. Remember, going green on the first trip of the day often sets the travel habits for the rest of it.

As well as minimising the time spent in the car, the green car driver can try to minimise the environmental and social damage done while driving. You'll do this in the smallest, lightest, safest and best maintained vehicle available. Private cars should satisfy usual needs, not peak needs, when hire can be appropriate.

Slowing down reduces emissions and noise pollution. It's much safer too; whatever the speed limit, go at a speed suited to the road conditions. Crashes are more likely if you drink, take drugs or are tired. Using the phone while driving is a definite no no. Bull bars have been shown to be particularly dangerous in collisions with pedestrians. Avoid rat runs down residential or country lanes to minimise the danger to other road users. Lastly, consider getting your sight checked. Are you sure you can see clearly enough?

Fuel consumption can be reduced through route planning, switching off the engine if it's idle for a minute or more, steady driving, regular servicing, engine tuning, emissions checks and correctly inflated tyres. A catalytic converter cuts some fumes but not the main climate change gas (carbon dioxide) and has a life of only around 50,000 miles. Diesel particulates do most to harm respiratory health and so diesel cars can no longer be recommended. The Energy Saving Trust advise on cleaner fuels (0845 602 1425)

A package of personal traffic reduction measures and some careful restructuring of your life can produce worthwhile results. This takes time and effort, but do persevere. Soon you'll rejoice in your success at greener travel, be a good role model and enjoy a better quality of life!

Cutting Your Car Use by Anna Semlyen, is published by Green Books. It includes a directory of useful green transport contacts. It costs £3.95 and is available from 01803 863260 or or

Anna Semlyen is an author, traffic reduction researcher and yoga teacher. Car-free by choice, she travels mainly by folding bike.

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