Posted by Sharon on July 18, 2018

Intro to science and technology studies. Technologies are rarely direct substitutes for one another. Tools shape behaviours, ways of relating to social and material environments. A city that invests in bike lanes over roads (both technologies, according to broad definitions) will shape transportation choices. Six months of EV (electric vehicle) driving has changed habits I've developed over three decades of driving a petrol-powered car. Ironically, had I adopted these behaviours earlier, I would have reduced my energy footprint even while relying on petrol power.

Here's a summary of some key changes.

1. I plan better and drive the most direct route.

Until I owned an electric vehicle (EV) I wasn't even conscious of how sloppy I could be when driving to semi-familiar destinations. I'd leave home and trust my ability to find my way. The EV's battery has limited my range, and there aren't many places I can recharge away from home. A couple late night wrong turns taught me that it's no longer tenable to drive five kilometres out of my way and backtrack.

Similarly, when running multiple errands in a single trip, I choose my route by considering energy efficiency, time efficiency, and convenience. I now give higher priority to energy efficiency.

2. I drive more slowly and brake infrequently.

I've always avoided braking by decelerating before turns, keeping well behind the car in front of me, and so forth. My EV's regenerative braking rewards this habit. If I keep my foot off the brake (and accelerator), my car will start slowing and recharge the battery.

I have not always been a slow driver! Although I'm more patient than my younger self, I still have been aiming for maximum legal speeds, passing when convenient. In the EV, I sometimes need to drop my speed by ten percent (or more) to reach my destination. I find it stressful to slow other drivers, but over time I've become better at judging when I really do need to speed up out of courtesy, when I can instead make it easy for others to pass me, and when it's satisfactory to expect others to slow down. If I get stuck behind a slow-moving car, I consider it a bonus. Slower driving is becoming a new habit.

Our EV constantly guesses how much farther it can travel on its current charge, and it adjusts its guesses based on how fast I'm driving. This provides constant feedback and reinforces how a gentle driving approach lowers my energy footprint.

3. I have confirmed my localist bias.

In the 1990s, I lived in the Seattle area, and I worked nights as a professional musician, rushing straight from my day job to gigs within a ninety kilometre range, one-way. I'm grateful I lived this way for awhile, but it would have been difficult to own a used EV at that time.

My life has since changed—not all at once, but through a series of choices that included attention to my transportation impacts. I started by making sure my apartments were on convenient bus routes; gradually I moved toward a work-from-home lifestyle.

That lifestyle has enabled my husband and me to be EV owners in the first place—but the lifestyle is now reciprocally reinforced by the EV. My son is on school holidays right now, and while I'm prepared to drag the petrol-powered beastie out of the paddock and clean the chicken manure off the windscreen, I first consider how I can extend my son's world while staying a little closer to home.

4. My husband and I have reduced our combined maximum daily travel (with some outliers).

As an American (by birth) of a certain class and generation, I once took it for granted that a multi-driver household would be a multi-car household—even when I was otherwise trying to reduce my transportation footprint. It challenged me when my husband and I decided to first drop to a single car (while living in a rural village without daily bus service). I had a long-standing carpool, and my husband was working from home. Dropping to one car should have been easy, but we found that—after more than a decade of living together—we needed to up our game when it came to communication and joint planning. Over time, we became much better at sharing our intentions, running each other's errands, and making sure every trip served multiple purposes.

Compared to switching to one car, switching to an EV was easy, especially as we still have the petrol beastie as back-up. For the most part, however, we've kept our one-car behaviour. (Here's an exception. My husband often carpools to weekend hui; for the first time in years, he can offer to drive.)

On top of that, even though we can use a fast-charger in the city, charge slowly at home during the day, or top-up beyond our standard eighty percent charge, our default behaviour is to charge at night to eighty percent of battery capacity. Without additional effort on our part, this default is shifting the maximum amount our family will drive in a typical day. There are still more days we don't drive than days that we do. On days we do drive, we've had to step up our communication just a little to decide how we'll use that typical maximum charge.

The flip-side. I've heard that some EV owners start driving more because they feel less guilt. Maybe their cars have less constraining batteries, or maybe they have more access to fast-chargers. Maybe they came to an EV as a consumer choice instead of through a multi-decade journey to reduce transportation footprints. For my part, owning an EV means driving less, not more.

Except ...

I can bicycle anywhere in my village within a few minutes. My family still travels by bike a fair bit, especially for routine trips such as school commuting. I'm now a bit more ready, however, to choose the car within my village. My good reasons for town driving could become the thin end of the wedge. To ward against this, I intend to remain deliberate in my choices. Even a good tool won't do all the ethical decision-making on my behalf!