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CLEANMPG - July 2, 2008

RESPONSE TO AAA'S 6/27/2008 "Hypermiling is Dangerous" press release

On June 27, 2008, the AAA issued a press release claiming that "Hypermilers" are endangering themselves and others by using a variety of "extreme" methods. Unfortunately, the release was not well researched and is rife with misstatements. This response is an effort to correct these errors.

For the past three years, a group of people has been developing and fine-tuning safe methods drivers can use to reduce fuel consumption in existing vehicles by 20 to 100% or more. These "Hypermiling" techniques (a term coined by the group’s originator Wayne Gerdes) are described and discussed on the website Because it is run by the originator of the term, CleanMPG effectively defines Hypermiling methods. Some of these methods are old (dating back to fuel rationing during WWII) while others are quite new, taking advantage of recent advances in automotive technology.

Hypermiling is a “toolbox” from which any driver selects methods that s/he feels are both safe and efficient, factoring in vehicle, driver, and situation. CleanMPG stresses that beginning Hypermilers should add only one new method at a time, if necessary testing at low speeds in an empty parking lot or on a deserted back road, and should never try anything they feel will be unsafe. In Hypermiling , the driver exercises the same discretion required in all driving. Going 65mph may be deemed “safe” on a highway with a 65mph limit, but not in a mall parking lot, or for that matter on the same highway in rain or snow. Hypermilers drive more safely than today's average US driver because (a) they do not drive at speeds above the posted speed limits, (b) they focus intently on the road and traffic conditions around them, and (c) they keep to the right hand lane.

Some of the AAA's recommendations are listed on CleanMPG as a good starting point: smooth and gentle acceleration and braking, maintaining a steady speed, using cruise control, and looking ahead to anticipate changing traffic conditions. Incidentally, cruise control is less efficient than other methods but it is an excellent tool to break the speeding habit.

Other methods listed in the AAA release are not even described on the CleanMPG website, are not recommended because they are felt to be too dangerous, or are misunderstood by the AAA. A senior CleanMPG member spoke with the AAA's VP for Public Affairs two days before the release was issued. The VP promised that this member's comments would be incorporated into the release, and that the AAA would contact Mr. Gerdes as well. Regrettably, neither happened.

The AAA’s concerns include:

(1) Rolling through stop signs and red lights to save fuel. We’re not sure where this came from but certainly not from CleanMPG. Recommending against it seems superfluous as rolling through stop signs and red lights has been a law on the books for literally 100 years.

(2) Using oil thinner than the grade recommended by the vehicle manufacturer has never been recommended on CleanMPG. The site specifically recommends using a synthetic oil in the thinnest grade approved by the manufacturer.

(3) Drafting – CleanMPG specifically recommends against Close-In or NASCAR like drafting on safety grounds alone. In addition, it is more efficient to slow down than it is to draft a semi at typical truck speeds. The AAA’s accusation is especially perplexing because drafting is basically tailgating. The only difference is that drafting is done in an attempt to improve fuel economy, whereas tailgating is done out of ignorance or inattention, or to intimidate the leading driver into moving over or speeding up. Tailgating is endemic on our highways; a large percentage of drivers follow much closer than recommended. Trucks routinely drive to within one CAR length of a car, apparently assuming that because they can see over the car they can anticipate what will happen, and cars tailgate trucks because drivers assume they can stop faster than the truck in all situations (debatable). This is a grave safety issue that the AAA is not addressing.

Chicago’s I-94 - 45 mph Construction Zone as seen on June 20th, 2008. Average speeds are between
55 and 60 mph and every car on the road for as far as the eye can see is within 1 second following
distances. Typical of morning and afternoon commutes in Chicago as well as every other major city's
thoroughfare in the US.

(4) Inflating tires. The AAA incorrectly calls it “over inflating” when tires are put at the maximum pressure recommended on the sidewalls by the tire manufacturer. This is within spec, not “over” as a large safety margin is built into the tire manufacturer’s recommendation. Inflating to the sidewall rating is recommended by police for their own cruisers for improved wet and dry grip as seen in the online article: Driving under pressure. An SAE study verifies this improvement in grip and also indicates that evenness of tread wear is not affected ( Fuel economy is improved, by as much as 10% in testing, and tire life is extended by upwards of 200%. The tradeoffs are slightly harsher ride and possibly more tire noise, but drivers quickly become accustomed to this.

(5) Coasting. Gliding engine-on in neutral is a safe and effective practice if one is comfortable with it and does it only in safe locations. Gliding engine-off is possible only in certain specific types of cars and only as an advanced method. Hybrids coast engine-off automatically and this is deemed safe. If there is following traffic, gliding is done in a way which minimizes variations in speed - or not done at all. All of this is described in detail at CleanMPG.

Over the past few years, reporters from respected institutions such as CBS, ABC, Dan Rather Reports, and other regional as well as local news outlets have gone on "ride-a-longs" or Hypermiling Clinics with various CleanMPG members to experience Hypermiling firsthand. None of them stated either in person or in their reports that they found the methods hazardous but all witnessed respective fuel economy increases of as much as 100%!

The skyrocketing price of fuel has placed our country in a serious predicament. The United States' fleet of vehicles is not fuel-efficient. In the long term, more efficient vehicles will replace these, but we need to implement other solutions sooner than that. A promising short- and long-term solution is the use of improved driving habits to reduce fuel consumption significantly. It would benefit our nation if the AAA would become an ally in rather than an opponent to CleanMPG's grass-roots efforts and we invite the AAA to do so. People look to the AAA as a source for information and expertise and it would be disappointing if that perception were to change.

Our concern with AAA’s press release is that they singled out practices that Hypermilers would never condone or promote yet did not advise against what most experience on the road daily. Among these are tailgaters who appear in the right hand lanes while driving illegally, blatant beyond the speed limit driving by the public at large, and Close-In drafting by the public without any idea that they themselves are involved in the practice.

With the AAA’s lack of credible experts and the poor fuel economy saving practices currently endorsed by the organization, we encourage them to become much better educated for both the consumers they serve as well as themselves vs. what they have promoted to date.

Attempts to contact the AAA offering their management driving clinics by fuel economy experts experienced in the field of Hypermiling have failed to produce a response.

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