- By driving more economically, we can reduce our impact on the environment.
- Eco-driving techniques may improve a car’s fuel economy by as much as 25%.
- Dr Turuna Seecharan at the University of Minnesota Duluth in the USA is examining how we can get young drivers on board.
- Gamification – using gaming concepts in a non-gaming context – is likely to encourage eco-driving in young drivers.
- Next, Seecharan will investigate the impact of stress levels on aggressive driving.
For the past decade, efforts to promote sustainable living have become more urgent, given the severe consequences of climate change in our daily lives. Driving in an eco-friendlier and more sustainable way is a prime example of how many of us could minimise our individual impact on the environment.
Electric cars may be the pinnacle of eco-friendly driving, but most people still operate petrol cars. Efforts should, therefore, first and foremost focus on reducing environmental impacts right now – and we might see immediate effects by changing our driving behaviour.
Focus on the young
Eco-friendly driving techniques actively lower your environmental impact when driving – and could improve your fuel economy by 15% to 25%. However, most efforts towards teaching these eco-friendly driving habits are aimed at older drivers and are commonly provided by employers for the sake of improved efficiency (eg, for transport drivers). According to Dr Turuna Seecharan and colleagues at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) in the USA, these efforts may be misplaced. Instead, Seecharan suggests we focus on a younger generation, aged between 15 and 29, and encourage long(er)-term behavioural change that results in more sustainable habits.
Commuting in a fuel-efficient manner benefits young commuters significantly through substantial travel savings. However, young drivers are still inclined to use their own vehicles rather than environmentally friendly public transport. For example, the researchers show that one in four UMD students find public transport too inconvenient. So, how can we mitigate the environmental impact of such drivers who are unable or unwilling to catch the bus or train – and also keep them safe? Young drivers are much more likely to be involved in road traffic accidents caused by careless, erratic, or negligent driving. Therefore, encouraging eco-driving – driving less aggressively and more sustainably – is a high priority for young drivers.
Gamifying sustainable driving
Currently, we already use a form of integrated communication and information technology, telematics, to monitor how safely a person drives the vehicle in which they are installed. Informally called ‘black boxes’, these telematic devices are used by young drivers to bring down high insurance premiums.
Eco-friendly driving techniques actively lower your environmental impact when driving – and could improve your fuel economy by 15% to 25%.
Gamification is the natural evolution of this black box technology, which differs by additionally providing young drivers with more detailed and immediate feedback. It introduces game-like elements, such as rewards, levels, and leaderboards, in contexts that aren’t normally game-related. One example is the use of gaming to practice triage by health professionals (Mohan et al, 2016). Gamification is based on self-determined theory (SDT), which identifies two forms of motivation. The first is extrinsic motivation, which is being motivated to do something to achieve a specific external goal; the second is intrinsic motivation, which is when people do something because it is a rewarding and interesting activity. Gamification is geared towards fostering intrinsic motivation for eco-driving in young drivers. By using the related elements that promote the feeling of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, gamification can induce the appropriate intrinsic motivation in an individual to bring about real and sustainable change.
So far, using gamification to promote environmentally friendly driving shows promising results, though these prior studies focus mostly on an individual’s competence and autonomy. Establishing an appropriate amount of intrinsic motivation may also require the use of relatedness, which so far has been unexploited by prior efforts.
Seecharan and her colleagues address this gap in the research. Given the young target audience and the effectiveness of gamification in other fields, the researchers see its potential to motivate sustainable driving habits. To keep things fun for young drivers, Seecharan employs the use of points, badges, levels, leader boards, time pressure, progress bars, tasks/challenges, virtual goods/currency, feedback, avatars, and narratives. These strategies are based on the principles of SDT, changing behaviour by proving intrinsically motivating feedback and a sense of relatedness (friendly competitive elements). Gamification makes eco-driving a more rewarding, enjoyable, and sustainable experience.
To keep things fun for young drivers, Seecharan uses points, levels, leader boards, tasks/challenges, avatars, and narratives to motivate sustainable driving habits.”
A new driving framework
The researchers suggest that a simple gamification framework – which tracks how a driver operates their car compared with other drivers – will positively benefit efforts towards sustainable driving. In essence, it rewards those who drive more sustainably, for example, by using less aggressive acceleration. Similarly, a driver’s braking, speeding and cornering habits are given points in correspondence with their sustainability and safety. It results in an ‘eco-score’, which reflects how well you are (eco-)driving: a score near ten is ideal.
To promote relatedness with others, these drivers are then put up on a results grid. The Eco-Driver Grid shows their position relative to other, similar, drivers. The hope, and next step, is to test and see if a driver will alter their behaviour by seeing how they compare. Seeing the direct benefit of driving less aggressively on a driver’s eco-score, in comparison to other drivers, should hopefully motivate them to continue doing so. A ‘good’ driver will have low incidents of aggressive driving, and the severity of the ones that do occur will be low. The grid also assigns colour-coded badges as rewards.
Not only could this framework provide a positive increase in sustainable driving practices, but it may also decrease the number of deadly accidents among young drivers. Seecharan’s framework could help these drivers to be more aware of driving aggressively, discouraging less sustainable and unsafe driving.
Building upon her research, Seecharan plans to see if a driver’s progress continues to improve over time through gamification and investigate the potential connection between driver stress levels and aggressive driving habits. If gamification elements improve sustainable rates of eco-driving, gaming and driving could be a fun and effective way to fight climate change and reduce road fatalities.
What are the main advantages of your framework when compared with other gamification approaches?
The main advantage is the Eco-Driver Grid. The goal of the grid is to provide a richer explanation of the eco-score. My hope is to design the grid to tailor the driver education programme to the individual. At the moment, the grid has three sections: green, yellow, and red. A driver that falls in the green section can continue driving as normal. A yellow driver would need some advice to move them toward the green section. However, I hypothesise that the training required for a yellow driver would not be the same as one that falls in the red section. Perhaps a driver in the yellow section would need periodic monitoring by a teacher to provide advice. A driver that falls in the red section might require complete re-training using a simulator. Testing the impact of these different types of training would be a future direction of the research.
How can we persuade insurance companies to adopt this framework?
The next steps of this work is to monitor driver stress while driving – this may persuade insurance companies and in-vehicle design companies to adopt the framework. Imagine if you were stressed and your vehicle was able to sense your stress level when you place your hands on the steering wheel. In an attempt to help you calm down before driving, perhaps the in-vehicle lighting might change to help your mood or maybe the radio station would default to calming music. For driver education programmes, a tailored education approach might be more impactful.
What further research is required to maximise the impact of your framework?
Maximising the impact of the framework involves understanding the unique needs of the individuals and their behavioural intentions. Gamification has proven to be successful in satisfying the competence, autonomy and relatedness needs of people to intrinsically motivate them toward positive behaviours. The next step would be to understand those people who still choose to engage in aggressive driving habits. What influences the individual to engage in those unsafe driving habits? Attitude, social norms, perceived behavioural control? How can gamification be ‘tweaked’ to appeal to those reasons and thus encourage safer driving habits?
How do you plan to study the correlation between driver stress and driving aggression?
Electrodermal activity (EDA) measures the electrical characteristics of the skin, which vary with moisture level. The moisture level depends on the sweat glands and blood flow which can be a marker for stress. Drivers will wear an EDA sensor on their wrist while driving. My research team will then look for spikes in their EDA and compare with their driving to determine whether aggressive driving increases when the driver EDA is higher.Are there any recent or upcoming advancements in eco-driving technology or gamification that you are excited about?
I am excited about the work to correlate EDA data with aggressive driving. I would like to gamify this data in a way that is appealing, and informative, to the driver. I am also excited about recent research that suggests tailoring the gamified interface to the personality of the individual.