A Nissan Leaf charges at a electric vehicle charging station...

A Nissan Leaf charges at a electric vehicle charging station in Portland, Ore. (Aug. 18, 2011) Credit: AP

Paul Scott thinks there's a way to improve traffic without putting a dime into roadwork: Teach people to become "eco-drivers."

It will improve traffic flow and help people slice their gasoline bills, he said.

Scott is an electric-vehicle advocate with Plug In America, a Leaf salesman at Santa Monica (Calif.) Nissan and a self-described serious eco-driver. Among some of his more extreme techniques: drafting behind trucks to save gas or, if in an electric car, energy. Driving practices like those help Scott get 100-plus miles out of one battery charge in a Leaf, and even more out of the first version of Toyota Motor Corp.'s electric RAV4. That's 20 percent to 25 percent better than most drivers.

"The average driver in America is extremely inefficient in the way they drive," Scott said.

Here are some of his tips for getting the most out of the gas or electricity in your car.

—If a car has an eco-mode setting, use it. It forces drivers to accelerate more smoothly and saves energy.

—Always drive gently off the line; never accelerate hard from a stop.

—Anticipate stops. If you see a red light, stop sign or heavy traffic ahead of you, let off the accelerator and coast.

—Keep your top speed at about 60 mph.

—Make sure your engine is properly tuned.

—Keep your tires fully inflated to their recommended maximum pressure.

—Don't haul stuff in your car that you don't need. Take the golf clubs out of the trunk when you get home from playing.

—Don't tailgate on the freeway. Allow five or six car lengths so that if the car in front brakes, you don't have to hit your brakes. Coast and allow the gap to close somewhat. Generally the car in front will accelerate again before you get close enough to have to use your brakes.

"If people did this, Los Angeles traffic would be a lot smoother," Scott said. "I once drove from Long Beach to Santa Monica on the 405 during rush hour and hit my brakes only one time. Part of that was luck, but it also was diligence." 

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