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Why driving slowly and responsibly can actually be fun

Gamification can make eco-friendly driving habits enjoyable. (Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/EPA)

Let’s get the bad news out of the way. We can no longer afford to mash the gas pedal and enjoy the rush of lightning-quick acceleration and traveling at high speeds. In light of climate change, our habits will have to change dramatically to avoid dire outcomes.

Gas-guzzlers are out, four-cylinder engines and electric cars are in. Goodbye acceleration that leaves skid marks, hello boring trips from point A to B.

Fortunately, there may be a silver lining. Car manufacturers are taking steps to make driving smart actually fun and competitive. Data shared with drivers lets them track their behavior and compete with friends. Instead of drag racing the car in the next lane, it’s time to get one’s kicks from coasting home and getting better fuel economy than your neighbor.

Half of Nissan Leaf drivers opt to participate in Carwings, an app that tracks drivers of the electric car. Leaf owners can see how many miles they’re getting per kilowatt hour of energy, and how they stack up against others drivers in their country and worldwide. Drivers can monitor how much they spent on electricity and glean how much money they saved vs. buying gas. The competitive desire to succeed naturally leads to better driving habits, which is exactly what the world needs.

Drivers can look online to see how they stack up against other drivers. (Nissan)

Some drivers appear to even game the recording system, all for the joy of outranking peers. Nissan Leaf user Stuart 658 has gained attention in online forums given the unfathomably good results he posts. In early June he’s averaged an amazing 62.1 miles per kilowatt hour, perhaps by selectively sharing his data only when driving downhill.

Nissan says Carwings’ most popular feature is tracking driver history, followed by checking charging status. Viewing worldwide rankings of driving metrics comes in third.

“The cool thing is it engages consumers with data that is tied to their motivation for purchase. You can get straight dollars and cents evaluations, or environmental factors, like tailpipe emissions,” said Nissan spokesman Brian Brockman.

Carwings calculates how much a driver is spending on electricity. (Nissan)

The car-sharing service Car2Go gives drivers an EcoScore, a calculation of how environmentally friendly one’s driving habits are. The score appears in an on-screen dashboard during all trips. It constantly updates based on how a driver is accelerating and braking. Driving irresponsibility will draw an on-screen warning.

“We’re trying to reinforce they are doing something by driving responsibly to benefit the environment, because they’re using less gas. They’re really making that a much cleaner operation of the vehicle.” said Bill Knapp, Car2Go’s chief operating officer for North America.

For those who want a more detailed report, drivers have the option of seeing how well they’re doing at accelerating, coasting and braking:

A Car2Go driver sees how effectively they’re driving. (Car2Go)

The brilliance of gamification, in which everyday situations are turned into games, is it taps into our human nature. The desire to play and compete are hard-wired into humans.

“Today’s modern life fails to provide a lot of the human psychology and emotional need states that people have. That’s why people turns to games,” said Todd Young, co-founder of Fiero, a creative agency focused on gamification. “Point A to point B is largely a mundane task. What if infrastructure for experience suddenly provided a venue to feel accomplished. And allowed you a way to feel subversive, giving you the infrastructure or framework to do something better. To feel smarter, better, more cunning than your peers and also some purpose to do good.”

If we’re serious about facing climate change, it would make sense for programs such as these from Nissan and Car2Go to be a required offering from all car manufacturers.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.



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