By Luigi Fraschini

In the summertime, energy use spikes and families pile into cars for long road trips.

While there’s nothing wrong with the use of air-conditioning -- and there’s a lot right about a family vacation -- these activities have their consequences, among them increased energy use and higher ozone levels.

But you don’t have to throw up your hands and simply be part of the problem. There are plenty of small steps you as a driver can take to improve our air quality and our health.

For instance, the state of Texas just launched a new initiative called Drive Clean Across Texas, the nation’s first statewide public education campaign on air quality. Campaign organizers from the Texas Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality point out that motorists can implement cost-saving, no-cost and low-cost changes in their driving and vehicle maintenance behaviors to reduce harmful vehicle emissions.

“Each of us is part of the solution to continue to improve air pollution,” said Dianna Noble, the Texas DOT’s environmental affairs division director. “Doing simple things like getting a tune-up and keeping your tires properly inflated improves gas mileage and reduces vehicle emissions.”

Here are some tips from the Drive Clean campaign:

1. Keep your vehicle in top shape

Proper and timely maintenance of your car or truck will conserve fuel and reduce emissions. A poorly maintained vehicle can release 10 times the emissions of one in good condition, so keep your car or truck engine well-serviced to lower exhaust emissions, maintain properly inflated tires, regularly change air and fuel filters, and service air-conditioning. Lighten your load by removing roof racks and emptying your trunk of unnecessary weight. Even refilling your gas tank can have positive effects. Seal your gas cap tightly, refuel during late afternoon or evening, and don’t “top off” the tank.

2. Use your feet

If you drive less, you’re doing your part to limit the number of vehicles on the road -- and that, in turn, means less exhaust. With a little planning, you can combine your errands into only one trip. For other trips, take a bicycle or walk, carpool, vanpool or ride public transit. In this Internet Age, telecommuting is also a good option.

3. Buy a “cleaner” vehicle

Help make the air healthier for yourself and others by purchasing a fuel-efficient or low-emission vehicle like a new hybrid-electric car.

4. Drive the speed limit

At high speeds, you’ll burn more fuel per mile driven, thus creating more harmful pollutants in the air. In addition to watching your speed, accelerate and decelerate slowly and smoothly. Anticipate stops and coast to a stop gradually. Hard braking is inefficient.

5. Reduce idling

Idling wastes gas. In fact, turning off the car and starting it again uses less gas than idling for 30 seconds or more, so park and go inside rather than using the drive thru at the bank or fast food restaurant. (You’ll get the added bonus of easy exercise.)

Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini writes frequently about the environment and offers cost-saving tips for car owners.



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