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Business: Transportation

Report: Driver Behaviour Affecting Fuel Consumption – November 1998

In 1994, the OEE commissioned a benchmark study to plot the behaviour, attitudes and preferences of Canadian drivers at that time and to create a benchmark to track changes. The study focussed on how driving habits affect fuel efficiency and fuel consumption, and on other vehicle related issues that affect the environment.

A second study was commissioned in 1998 to track changes over the four years. It included additional questions to determine if it was possible to improve fuel efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions by encouraging Canadians to reduce engine idling and maintain proper tire pressure. This study was conducted in February and tracked winter driving behaviour. A smaller, follow-up study was conducted in August 1998 to find out how Canadian drivers monitored vehicle tire pressure and how much they idled their engines in warm weather.

What We Did

In August 1998, as in February, 1502 telephone interviews were conducted, in English and in French, with drivers across Canada. The question on driving frequency and distances, descriptions of personal-use vehicles and driver behaviour remained the same as the 1994 survey. Additional questions on behaviour related to idling and checking tire pressure were added to the 1998 survey. Respondents were also asked about their age, household make-up, occupation, education, income, language and location. This information was used to organize the driver data into demographic and behavioural subgroups, with the goal of producing an accurate, representative picture of Canadians on the road.

Who We Talked To

Both the February and August 1998 surveys involved drivers from five regions: Atlantic Canada, Québec, Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia. Respondents were selected at random, with the sample in each region including 100 households from a rural area (with a population of less than 1000) and 200 households from an urban centre (with a population of 1000 or more). The data were then weighted to reflect the Canadian population as accurately as possible.

All respondents held a valid provincial driver's licence and lived in a household that owned or leased a car, light truck or van (including minivans and four-wheel drive road vehicles). Those who held a valid driver's licence but who did not drive at the time of the survey were excluded, as were drivers with learners' permits, or temporary, expired or suspended licences, and those who used their vehicles only for business or drove only motorcycles or recreational vehicles.

What We Learned

Engine idling behaviour

  • The most common reasons for engine idling on the day before the interview in February included warming up the vehicle, waiting for or picking up someone, running an errand and waiting at a fast-food drive-through lane. In August, the most common reasons included waiting for or picking up someone, warming up the vehicle, waiting at a road construction site, preparing to leave home and waiting at a fast-food drive-through lane. A comparison of the two studies shows that the percentages of drivers who idled their engines in a specific situation were very similar, with the exception of warming up the vehicle, which dropped by 24 percent in August compared to February.

  • In February, the longest engine idling times were for (in descending order): warming up a vehicle, running an errand and waiting in a fast-food drive-through lane. In August, the longest times were for waiting at a road construction site, waiting for or picking up someone and running an errand.

  • The two studies revealed the following traits of drivers who idle:

    • Those living with children were more likely to idle their engines than those without children.
    • The proportion of people who idle increases with the number of people in the household.
    • Most likely to idle are people in the labourer, professional, sales or clerical and student occupational categories. Least likely to idle are retirees.
    • The frequency of idling decreases with age.
    • Drivers who live in rural communities are more likely to idle than those in urban centres.

Behaviour regarding checking tire pressure

  • No significant difference was noted in behaviour related to checking tire pressure between the February and August studies, although the number of respondents (67 percent) who reported checking their tire pressure in the month preceding the survey rose marginally (three percent) in August.

  • The reported frequency of tire pressure checks remained similar in both surveys. While 67 percent of respondents reported checking their tire pressure six or fewer times per year in the February survey, the number fell marginally to 65 percent in August. Similarly, in both the February and the August surveys, 35 percent said that they had checked their tire pressure three or fewer times in the previous year. Less than one-third (30 percent in February and 32 percent in August) of the respondents had checked their tire pressure 10 times or more in the year preceding the survey.

  • The February 1998 study revealed that the majority of respondents did not know their vehicle's specified tire pressure and did not perceive tire checks to be part of a maintenance routine. The most frequently cited reason for checking tire pressure was the discovery of a soft tire. In the August study, however, eight percent fewer respondents stated that they tended to check their tire pressure only at the "sign of a problem."

  • The typical driver likely to check tire pressure as part of a "regular routine" tended to be male, a tradesperson or technician, over the age of 35, with a household income of more than $65,000 a year.

Obtain a printable copy of this report (Zipped PDF file)