Sweden Requires Fuel-Efficient Driving Lessons
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In Sweden, saving on gas is no longer just a good idea. It's the law. Sweden is under pressure to meet tough new European Union regulations on climate change. Like other European countries, Sweden is looking at alternative fuels and new technology to meet that challenge. It's also turning to social engineering to change fuel consumption. A new law requires fuel-efficient eco-driving to be part of the test to get a drivers license. Here's reporter Alison Hawkes.
ALISON HAWKES: At Axelsson's Driving School in the old industrial town of Vasteras, students are scribbling away at practice tests and waiting for their instructors. Gabriella Nordon(ph) is a blond-haired 21-year-old practicing for her state driving test. She says she's already mastered the basics of eco-driving.
Ms. GABRIELLA NORDON: It's easier than you think. The teachers explain it and you just practice it.
HAWKES: New drivers have to master eco-driving in both the written exam and the driving test itself. Saving on fuel consumption is now on par with stopping at red lights and merging into traffic. Officials say the techniques can save 10 to 20 percent of fuel consumption. Swedes may have a reputation for being very green. But their love of large-engined Volvos and Saabs means most Swedish drivers get very poor fuel efficiency.
Ms. JENNY AXELSSON (Driving Instructor): OK.
HAWKES: Nordon's instructor is Jenny Axelsson. She takes Nordon to a white sedan parked on a tree-lined street and gives her her instructions. Then she locks a device onto the dashboard that tracks fuel consumption.
Ms. AXELSSON: When the pink is coming on the display, then we're saying money and saving fuel.
HAWKES: Nordon barely leaves the parking spot when Axelsson offers her first correction about backing out when she could have gone forward.
Ms. AXELSSON: OK. Wait. Now we will teach you some eco-driving. When you're going backwards then you spend fuel two times. Here you can spend one time by going on the first gear a little bit and then to the second.
HAWKES: A lot of the techniques are common sense and Axelsson says they apply equally to stick shifts and automatics: avoid idling, don't spend too much time in the least efficient first gear, get up to a higher gear as soon as possible. But Axelsson says the real key to good fuel economy is coasting, avoiding a dead stop as much as possible by lifting off the gas pedal when you see a potential stop ahead.
Ms. AXELSSON: When you can see that it's a red light then it's better to go off the gas. Then you can save some fuel.
HAWKES: Eco-driving is at least a decade old in Sweden, as are dizzying gas prices. Axelsson's Driving School was one of the first to offer the training when companies started sending their employees to the school as a way to cut fuel costs. Now the school is exporting its know-how. This summer, Jenny Axelsson's older brother Michael went to Los Angeles to train 70 employees of Southern California's largest gas and electric supplier.
Mr. MICHAEL AXELSSON (Driving Instructor): What I noticed when I was in California is that a lot of trucking companies - small trucking companies - are having huge problems with their economy due to the fuel price. And the reduction of 10 or 15 percent might help to save the company for them if they can save up money by saving fuel. So the more expensive the fuel is the more important the knowledge of eco-driving actually is.
HAWKES: By next year, eco-driving will also be required for truck, bus and motorcycle licenses. Axelsson says anything with an engine is fair game for eco-driving.
For NPR News, I'm Alison Hawkes in Vasteras, Sweden.