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How Eco Driving Works
How Eco Driving Works

Over the last twenty years regulatory pressures and an increased public demand for greater fuel economy placed the onus on the automotive sector to improve gas mileage and reduce emissions. However, not all of the responsibility belongs to the automotive industry. Drivers must also help maximize fuel efficiency and reduce levels of deleterious pollutants entering the atmosphere. 

In the 2000s, as the price of oil soared, and new hybrid and electric vehicle technologies were in short supply, a movement to encourage drivers to maximize fuel economy while minimizing emissions began to take shape. Eco-driving, a combination of vehicle maintenance and driver behaviors—keeping tires inflated, driving at optimal speeds, avoiding rapid acceleration, excessive braking, combining trips, and other simple techniques—was developed to save gas and reduce emissions.

In 2010 the state launched the Oregon Sustainable Transportation Initiative and developed a “Greenhouse Gas Reduction Toolkit” that provided educational materials that encouraged drivers to adopt eco-driving behaviors. When the state wanted to know whether the program could succeed in a workplace setting, it turned to PSU’s Transportation Research & Education Center (TREC), where Jennifer Dill, the center’s director, recruited Dr. Donald Truxillo and John MacArthur to lead the project. Dr. Truxillo is a professor of psychology at PSU and an organizational psychologist whose research examines employee training, workplace safety, recruitment, hiring, the aging workforce and, more recently, organizational transportation initiatives. Psychology doctoral students Layla Mansfield and Frankie Guros supported the project.

“What we found in our first evaluation of the eco-driving program,” Dr. Truxillo said, “was that it works when employees are motivated to follow the program recommendations and supervisors support the adoption of eco-driving behaviors. Without those two factors, the program did not seem to have a significant impact on employee driving behaviors.”

Building on their review of the state’s efforts, Dr. Truxillo and John MacArthur, along with Dr. Talya Bauer (SBA), Dr. Leslie Hammer (Psychology), and doctoral student Grant Brady, are exploring the impact of supervisor support on the adoption of eco-driving behaviors and whether this actually affects fuel consumption in fleet vehicles driven by government employees.

“The eco-driving promotional materials don’t necessarily actively encourage drivers to adopt eco-driving behaviors,” says Dr. Truxillo. “There’s a video that explains what eco-driving is. There are posters and flyers employers can put up around the workplace. There are static cling tags that can be placed in vehicles. But the program itself is pretty passive, and posters and flyers can easily be overlooked. We proposed that by providing supervisors with the materials along with training, supervisors would be more likely to express their support for the program. Due to their frequent communication with employees, supervisors can serve as champions for the program. It’s a much more active approach to encouraging the adoption of eco-driving behaviors.”

Employees and supervisors from Washington County, the City of Hillsboro, and the state are participating in the current study. The research team collected survey data to assess if and how driver behaviors changed as a result of the supervisor training. Vehicle data was also collected to compare self-reported behavioral changes against actual fuel consumption.

“This is a new approach to studying the efficacy of eco-driving programs,” says Dr. Truxillo. “Other studies have simply provided employees some training and then checked to see if the training changed driver behavior. This study is seeking to achieve ecological validity. In other words, we’re monitoring to see if the training we gave the supervisors translates to employee behaviors behind the wheel and if those changes reflect a reduction in fuel consumption.” 

If the research team’s efforts show promise, they could be used by other organizations wanting to implement eco-driving programs. In the long run, sensible driving could result in reductions in gasoline and diesel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.