Green telematics – how and why in four points (and why every driver should be an ecodriver)

Green  telematics — how and why 

Guide: Is telematics car insurance ‘green’? – yes – and here are four (plus one) reasons why – and why it’s a good idea to try ecodriving now.

To startwhat is telematics car insurance: we answer the question here. And we use the term ‘telematics’ interchangeably with the term intelligent transport systems (or ITS).

What do we mean by ‘green’? – By green we mean driving any vehicle in a way that consciously uses the minimal practical resources to complete any journey.

And why should we worry about whether our driving is green or not? Because, global warming is an issue for us all on a personal level, but also for government. Our government for example has a legally binding obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. The target was set as part of the 2008 Climate Change Act. This requires major changes to transport. This is because transport has an almost exclusive dependence on fossil fuels (oil).

Personal use of common resources
Driving requires common social resources for which we collectively pay through taxes (the roads, highway systems, other transport systems, systems of publicly policed control, speeds limits, traffic lights, drink drive laws, driver tests and licencing). It also requires the consumption of resources held in common which are becoming scarcer (most notably oil). Also driving produces waste (that is, pollution) which is difficult to deal with and can only be dealt with socially, that is, by us all.

A telematics-aided car is a green car
Our argument is – a telematics-aided car is a green car – and that is the case, we argue, even if you are only using an insurance-based telematics product you will be driving in a way which is sounder ecologically . Though, it also helps if you have also a device which can also use the vehicle’s own monitoring systems to provide hints on how to drive more efficiently and use the European-wide eCall system.

In this post – four green telematic reasons:

1. Energy and environment

2. Mobility and efficiency

3. Productivity

4. Safety

5. – and one extra tip – take up ecodriving today.

And who exactly is saying all this? Why, non other than our own government.

It set up a telematics think tank (in 2003), InnovITS which it then this year closed down (InnovITS closure).

But, before it closed it did a very sensible thing – it got some knowledgeable people to set out everything known to date about the usefulness of telematics.

And the result is an explosive gem – a boiling-down of all those diverse bits of research that you wish, somehow, you could grasp with one hand. Anyway, it is here: the Intelligent Mobility Report: Impact Study on Intelligent Mobility and I have shamelessly plundered its 47 pages in this post.

It has a startling introduction:

Based on empirical case studies and evaluations around the world it was found that the deployment of ITS can have positive impacts on transport systems across a range of modes, infrastructure and activities. [We call ITS ‘telematics’– Ed’s note]

The authors spell out the detail:

  • For measures related to network efficiency there are reductions in carbon (CO2) emissions of 10 – 15%;
  • reductions in other environmental emissions (CO, NOx, PM10) ranged from 2 – 20%;
  • fuel consumption decreased 5 – 15%;
  • traffic congestion reduced from 12 – 30% and
  • average vehicle speeds increased 5 – 25%.

And there is more. Measures related to fleet operations and management were found to

  • reduce vehicle emissions from 5 – 20%,
  •  improve travel time 2 – 15% and
  •  reduce fuel consumption 8 – 18%.

Telematics also had a good effect on how people drove:

ITS also influenced driver behaviour and was found to improve fuel efficiency by 8 – 18% through ecodriving.

The authors (distinguished academics by the way) concluded:

The review of the evidence base therefore indicates that the deployment of ITS technologies can make a positive contribution to transitioning to a more sustainable transport system in accordance with UK and global policy goals.

So, four (plus one) reasons why a telematic aided car is a green car.
1. Energy and environment.

The telematics driver wastes less fuel and other raw materials (including wear and tear on the vehicle).

Vehicle transportation is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) which are the main contributors to global warming. Vehicles are also a major source of other environmentally harmful emissions including carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxide (NO) and hydrocarbons (HC).

In England, the transport sector contributes about 25% of the country’s CO2 emissions (which is the central GHG), and 93% comes from road transport.

In France, 31% of final energy consumption and 26% of GHG emissions are from transport, and in the US, 33% of final energy consumption and nearly 30% of CO2 emissions are from road transport.

Globally, transportation accounts for 25% of worldwide GHG emissions.

And, there is also a strong link between the economic and environmental impacts of congestion in the transportation system. Traffic congestion causes extensive CO2 emissions.

For example, vehicles travelling at 60 km/hr. emit 40% less carbon emissions than vehicles travelling at 20 km/hr.

Telematics can:

deliver environmental benefits by reducing congestion, enabling more efficient and smooth traffic, and by reducing the need to build additional roadways through maximizing existing capacity.

Importantly, telematics can also:

…influence driver behaviour by coaching motorists how to drive more efficiently, reducing fuel consumption, cost and vehicle emissions. Various studies show on average ITS can influence driver behaviour resulting in 5-15% reductions in vehicle emissions through ecodriving.

2. Mobility and efficiency.

Our authors state clearly that ‘ major consequence of an inefficient transport system is the economic and environmental costs related to traffic congestion’:

In 2007, U.S. road congestion cost USD 2.8 billion gallons of fuel, and more than 4.2 billion hours of lost productivity, for a combined cost of USD 87.2 billion … In the EU, 24% of driving time is spent in traffic congestion incurring an annual cost of 1% of EU’s GDP.

They conclude:

ITS can improve the performance transportation networks by maximizing the capacity of existing infrastructure, and reducing the need to build additional capacity.

And this is important because the increase in miles driven by each vehicle surpasses the roadway capacity. For example:

…from 1980 – 2006 in the US, total vehicle kilometres increased 97% while the total number of highway lane kilometres grew by a mere 4.5% … This means twice as much traffic has been moving on nearly the same roadway capacity in recent years.

And they point to the telematics applications that can produce this green result:

  • traffic signal light optimization can improve traffic flow significantly by reducing stops by 40%, fuel consumption by 10%, vehicle emissions by 22%, and travel time by 25%;
  • ramp metering can increase vehicle throughput (the number of cars that pass through a road lane) from 8 – 22%

3. Productivity.

The telematics driver can make better use of the roads and transport system. And something the authors call green telematics is on the inevitable rise.

In the European Union, 20% of GDP is generated by the transport sector. This equates to 1,900 billion euros, 16 million jobs, or 9% of all EU employment… The automotive industry supports over 12 million jobs with direct employment of over 2 million people, and indirectly employs another 10 million people.

The authors estimated that the European and North American fleet green telematics market will increase from USD 80 million in 2008 to USD 700 million by 2015, a compound annual growth rate of 36%.

Much of this growth is due to increasing pressure on fleet companies to reduce their carbon footprint and develop a greener image, and therefore productivity has become linked with both energy and environment and improved efficiency.

Their view is that the most benefits are to be derived from just two systems; automatic vehicle location and road weather information.

4. Safety.

An in-car device makes the car a safer car.

Even the most basic app mounted in a car an linked with insurance monitoring will have an effect because the driver becomes a conscious driver (or, as we now say, an ecodriver) – of road conditions, speed limits, road type. But, the device could also be linked with other applications already in use to warn the driver of:

  • problems within the vehicle (for example servicing issues)
  • weather conditions
  • road conditions (traffic density)
  • variable speed limits
  • traffic signal enforcement
  • speed enforcement
  • dynamic message signs
  • collision warning and hence collision avoidance

And, the device (like the eCall system) can be used to automically alert emergency services or be used by a driver when witnessing an emergency. This enables the correct and timely dispatch of emergency help.

It also can provide data on how the accident was caused which leads to feedback to road maintenance and road design authorities. The authors point to the fact that health costs related to accidents and congestion are significant around the world:

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates total worldwide traffic fatalities in 2009 were over 1.2 million. In the US, traffic fatalities are similar to the EU at around 40 thousand per year and related costs around USD 150 billion per year …

They are clear that what they call ‘traffic incident management programs’ have the ability to:

…reduce the duration of traffic incidents from around 15 – 65%, with the majority of programmes reporting 30 – 40% improvements.

5. It is here and it is the future – try ecodriving now.

So what is an ecodriver?

In a nutshell – the ecodriver drives reasonably and is alert to the usefulness of all the devices available now and built into the car . From my experience some of these are a bit fiddly to get used to – for example, most cars monitor in real-time fuel consumption but the information is presented in a way it is difficult to incorporate into actual driving practice.

Clearly, design improvements are needed.

The authors say:

Allowing the vehicle ITS system to coach the driver on efficient driving can help make ecodriving a habit. It is estimated that ecodriving can improve fuel efficiency by 10% for drivers…

Data extracted from ecodriving coaching programmes record substantial fuel savings:

…from a high of 17% in Japan to a low of 8% in the United Kingdom…

And, allowing the vehicle ITS system to coach the driver on efficient driving can

…help make ecodriving a habit. It is estimated that ecodriving can improve fuel efficiency by 10% for drivers over the medium term (more than 3 years after initial training) that use it where ITS systems can help maximise this benefit…

An urgent question: Why does our government not do more? And why the shortage of joined up thinking?

Our government’s position is summed up here in a note prepared for the Secretary of State for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR),Mr Vince Cable MP by the Chief Executive of the (unlikely named) Catapult Transport systems: Transport Systems Catapult role purpose and vision brief . Note how this note (like many more on the subject from government) has to repeat the mantra that:

Our vision is to be the centre from which the UK leads the world in Intelligent Mobility, promoting sustained UK economic growth and wellbeing.

Given this objective it is quite difficult to see why so little is being achieved, and more puzzling still, why we are among the minority of EU nations not fully participating in the EU wide eCall project. See our position on this in the submission to the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology inquiry into horizon scanning.

Why for example, when formulating policy on young drivers is there no mention of the use of telematics to help coach young drivers?

The authors remind the government that it has a duty to respond to the EU action plan for supporting telematics but that the Department for Transport (DfT):

…does not currently have any overarching policy framework for ITS deployment …

They remind the government that this is needed because

…the impact that ITS has on energy and environment will have co-benefits in the other domains, which could be the focus of future research.

Finally, after making the important point that their report was based on reviewing published information, rather than going to original sources, they conclude:

…despite this shortcoming, based on a range of literature, what can be concluded with some certainty is that the deployment of ITS technologies has substantial potential to positively contribute to achieving a more sustainable transport system in accordance with UK and global policy initiatives.

What does the environment lobby make of this?

I put that question to Andy Allen of the Campaign for Better Transport. He replied:

There is a strong case, and it is something we’re interested in. Although it’s early days for our involvement, we’re talking to various players within the industry about how telematics can improve national transport policy decision making.

Not surprisingly, the Campaign has discovered

…that industry thinking is way ahead of that within Government.

He characterises present transport policy as a debate about ‘demands and counter demands for big new infrastructure to allow us to move people and goods further ever longer distances’:

What telematics could offer are mechanisms to use the infrastructure we have in a much smarter way, bringing big economic, social and environmental gains.

For example:

…investing in technology could make transport networks more reliable, cheaper to use and operate, and support skilled jobs in the process. The kinds of things we’re looking for are real time information on how transport networks are operating, and gathering information so planner can better understand travel patterns and trends (for example, smartcards and smart-tickets, and also potentially on the road network).

He says the Government is beginning to dip its toe in the water.

From what we see, progress is mainly limited to public transport projects at present (for example, see the DfT’s door to door strategy or the recent announcement concerning smart ticketing across the rail network). But we’ve barely touched on the potential.


As a driver:

  • become an ecodriver

And as a citizen:

  • encourage government to act purposely on its climate change obligations

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Jonathan Coe

Let us know what you think – send us a question or comment here ….

    Jonathan Coe, Editor

    Journalist and comms specialist for over 40 years – trained in print, broadcasting, and industrial intranet. Written about comms policy (eg. as radio editor at Time Out); held senior comms roles in public bodies (National Health Service, local government) and privatised undertakings (London Electricity – now Electricité de France). Since, has developed interests in the ordinary citizen's use of judicial review to challenge irrational decisions of government and the use of rights (like the Freedom of Information Act) to explore irrational decisions (like the BBC's original decision to close the BBC digital radio service BBC 6 Music).

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