Drivers, slow down for the good of the planet (and your wallet)

One Change: Reducing your speed on the motorway to 110 km/h could save you 18% on fuel

If I told you there was a simple change you could make that would make your life safer, reduce your stress levels, and save up to 30 per cent of the fossil fuels you burn while driving, would you be interested? The change is to reduce your motorway driving speed from 120km/h to 100km/h (or even better, to 80km/h).

That our cars burn less fuel and emit less CO2 at lower speeds is obvious, but convincing ourselves to drive slower is not easy. My own regular return trips to west Cork from Westmeath have the same carbon impact as a one-way flight to London per passenger (.08 tonnes of C02).

Something needs to be done. The Government discussed the idea of reducing the motorway speed limit to 110km/h as part of the Climate Action Plan in 2017, but nothing was agreed.

The European Environment Agency published a report last year showing that reducing the motorway speed limit from 120km/h to 110km/h could deliver fuel savings of 12–18 per cent. A Dutch research organisation, CE Delft, showed that lowering the speed limit to 80km/h could reduce motorway CO2 emissions by 30 per cent in the longer term. Considering transport represents almost a quarter of Europe's greenhouse gas emissions, this is a significant change worth implementing.

Significant saving

Personally, it’s the hardest One Change I’ve suggested so far in this series. Motorways have been a boon to Ireland and it feels frustrating not to use them to their best ability. My round trip journey to west Cork could increase by 50 minutes if I slowed to 100km/h. Yet people who’ve lowered their speed marvel at how much less stressed and tired they are after a long drive, and how much safer it feels. They also notice a significant financial saving, in addition to less wear and tear on their car.

Balanced against these benefits will be the negative economic, efficiency and productivity impact of slowing down traffic by almost 20 per cent. On the plus side, this lower speed would also decrease the frequency and severity of accidents, which would lead to a follow-on reduction in the carbon emissions connected with emergency services, medical attention and rehabilitation care.

The Netherlands is dropping its speed limit from 130km/h to 100km/h this year. It’s only a matter of time before we follow suit; ultimately, we may move to public transport entirely – though I cannot imagine how I would get from Westmeath to west Cork by bus and train.

If this One Change suggestion is genuinely too much to countenance at this stage, then at least try lowering your engine revs and avoid unnecessary acceleration. By not driving like a boy racer you can reduce your emissions by almost the same amount as driving at a lower speed.

One Change is a weekly column about the changes – big and small – that we can all make in our daily lives for the good of the planet.