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How to Drive the Bay-Friendly Way

With the cost of gas hovering near $4 per gallon, driving isn’t anyone’s favorite activity. But for most of us, commuting to and from work, school and errands is a necessary part of our daily routine. Although you can’t stop driving altogether, there are lots of ways you can send less pollution into our air and water – and get the most out of those 70 bucks you just poured into your gas tank.

Here are a few things you can do (or not do!) on the road to reduce your impact on the Chesapeake Bay – and save you a few extra gallons at the same time.

How does driving harm the Chesapeake Bay?

Collectively, personal vehicles are the single largest contributor to air pollution in cities across the United States. When we drive, vehicle exhaust goes into the atmosphere and poisons the air we breathe.

But what goes up must always come down. Air pollution becomes water pollution when it falls back onto the land in the form of rain or snow. Stormwater runoff carries this fallen exhaust pollution, as well as oil and fuel that’s leaked onto the ground, into the Chesapeake Bay and its local rivers.

Airborne nitrogen – a type of nutrient that can be harmful to our waterways in large doses – accounts for up to one-third of all the nitrogen that pollutes the Chesapeake Bay. Nitrogen fuels the growth of algae blooms, which block sunlight from reaching bay grasses and lead to low-oxygen areas where no life can exist.

How can I drive less?

The most obvious way to save gas and reduce pollution is to cut back on driving. For lucky urbanites, access to public transportation and the conveniences of city living may make this easier. The rest of us have to get creative.

Here are a few ways you can drive less, no matter where you live:

  • Plan ahead. Stop running out to the store several times per week. Instead, try grouping your errands into one big weekly trip. You’ll be surprised how much time, gas and money you save!
  • Don’t drive. If you don’t need to drive to get somewhere…don’t! Try walking, biking, or taking a bus or shuttle to your destination instead.
  • Join a carpool. Sharing a ride to work not only saves a significant amount of money, but it also gives you some company during those often-stressful morning commutes. You can connect with other carpool-seekers in your community through sites like eRideShare.
  • Consider car sharing. If you live in a city, or if you only need a car occasionally, consider joining a car sharing group such as Zipcar.

How can I make my commute more Bay-friendly?

Okay, so maybe it’s a bit too cold to hop on your bike, or you just have to run out to the store for that last minute-item. No matter how much you drive, there are still some important tips you can follow to make your commute more Bay-friendly.

  • Drive the speed limit. You’ll avoid speeding tickets, but you’ll also save gas. When you drive faster than 60 miles per hour, your fuel efficiency drops significantly.
  • Don’t idle. If you’re stationary for more than 30 seconds, turn off your engine. If you can avoid idling for three minutes per day, you will save more than 10 gallons of gas per year.
  • Drive sensibly. Lightly step on the gas pedal after stopping at stop signs and red lights. This is not only safer for you and others, but it will save you gas and, of course, money!
  • Use cruise control. Cruise control keeps your car traveling at a constant speed, which saves you the fuel that’s wasted when you slow down and accelerate again.
  • Avoid rush hour. Traffic is the worst enemy of the environmental-and-budget-conscious driver. If it’s possible to delay your commute to avoid the heaviest traffic hours, do so.

Maintaining your vehicle is also a critical part of increasing your fuel efficiency and reducing harmful pollutants. Here are a few features to check out on your own vehicle:

  • Keep your tires properly inflated. When the air pressure in your tires is low, so is your gas mileage. You’ll save money and decrease your risk of accidents by making sure your tires are properly inflated. It’s free to check your tire pressure at gas stations! If you don’t know how to do it yourself, talk to a mechanic.
  • Use the right motor oil. Using different motor oil than your car maker recommends can reduce your gas efficiency by 2 percent. Switching to the correct grade of motor oil can save you upwards 10 gallons of gas per year. Select motor oil with “energy conserving” on the label.
  • Check your air filters. Replacing a dirty air filter can improve your gas mileage by 10 percent. It also prevents impurities from damaging your engine.
  • Don’t overfill. When the gas pump automatically stops, don’t try to squeeze more fuel into your tank. Topping off can lead to spills, which is extremely dangerous for life in the Bay and its rivers.
Keywords: nitrogen, nutrients, air pollution, driving

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