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Change Your Driving Habits (and Save Gas!)

We know what you're thinking: we're going to nag you about slowing down in the name of fuel economy. Well, you're partly right. But we're not going to pull a Jimmy Carter on you and say you should drive 55 mph. That would be dangerous and probably not help the cause of energy conservation.

What we will suggest is a change of attitude, a change that you will like for a number of reasons that we will point out. Here are our tips for a new outlook on the road ahead.

When you leave for your daily commute, do you treat it as a race? This wastes gas, burns up your brakes and produces stress. Look at your habits and consider a new approach to driving.

When you leave for your daily commute, do you treat it as a race? This wastes gas, burns up your brakes and produces stress. Look at your habits and consider a new approach to driving.

1. Swear off drag racing.

Gas is consumed more quickly during hard acceleration so if you spare the horses when you get the green light, you stand to improve your mileage significantly. By tapping an SUV's big V8 routinely, for example, your mileage could drop from 16 to 12 miles per gallon. That doesn't sound like much but, in fact, it is a 25-percent reduction. Over the life of the car, the savings will add up.

2. Look farther down the road.

Do you really need to accelerate right up to a stoplight? Why not back off the accelerator if that traffic light two blocks away is red? Glide until you get the green and then accelerate moderately. This not only saves gas but also your brake pads.

3. Pick your lane and stick with it.

Traffic studies have shown that changing lanes doesn't result in a significantly reduced travel time. So why not choose your lane and put it in cruise control? This avoids constant surging as you speed into the open lane. It will lower your fuel consumption and your blood pressure.

4. Pretend you're a hybrid.

Ever notice how people like to leave their cars idling while they talk to their neighbor or jump out to run an errand? This wastes more gas than you would think. Most hybrids save gas by automatically shutting off at stoplights. We're not suggesting you do this. But if you are going to be motionless for a few minutes, shut 'er down.

5. Can you carpool?

There are some very cool things about carpooling besides just the gas savings. You can use the carpool lanes and share the driving. Also, say you're stuck in a boring meeting at work. Simply glance at your watch and say, "Sorry, I'm carpooling." Everyone knows you're doing a good thing for the environment so they will nod understandingly and excuse you. And did we mention the carpool lanes?

6. Don't drive.

How can "don't drive" be a driving tip? Well, we won't argue the point. But we will say that most people could stand to walk or ride a bike a lot more than they are doing now. So look for local errands that can easily be done under your own steam. A short walk might be faster because you don't have to spend time finding a parking space.

7. Drive on off-peak hours.

Sitting in traffic isn't much fun for you or your car. You could try adjusting your schedule to avoid the traffic jams. You will save time and quite a lot of fuel. If you can't change your work schedule, arrive early and spend the time in the gym, reading a book or doing extra work. Wouldn't you rather be doing something for yourself than burning gas sitting in traffic?

8. Look for telecommuting opportunities.

Does your employer insist on lots of "face time"? With rising gas prices and congested freeways, working from home one day a week might be an option that your employer will consider. Tell them that the time you save commuting you will use to increase your productivity.

9. Don't try to prove yourself on the streets.

Street racing isn't as fun and easy as it looks in The Fast and the Furious. In fact, we know professional racecar drivers who drive cautiously around town. One veteran racer said, "I prove myself on the track, not on the streets." Furthermore, the pros know that logging good track times is all about being smooth and efficient, not hammering the gas and squealing the tires.

10. Release the emergency brake.

This tip saves a bundle. You've already done it? OK. But at least we got a longer-looking list of recommendations. Seriously, though, check the trunk and see if you're carrying around a lot of extra weight. Take out the sacks of concrete and you might notice an improvement in your fuel economy.

As you can see, looking for ways to improve fuel economy is a state of mind. We hope our list has jogged a few new thoughts and showed you that there may be more options than you realized.