Motorists, can you afford the true cost of fuel?

Is fuel efficient driving the answer?

As the Office of Fair Trading continues its six-week investigation into petrol and diesel prices, fluctuating rates at the pumps are offering little consolation to hard-pressed motorists.

The cost of fuel rose at the end of the summer - at a time when the cost of crude oil was falling. The fair trade watchdog wants to know why.

Financial experts appear to be sitting on the fence when it comes to making a decision over the current state of the economy.

But whether Britain is out of recession or still caught in the vice-like grip of a worldwide financial crisis, motorists are still feeling the pinch.

The true cost of running a car is now not just an accepted burden but a real worry to countless families who have seen the price of almost everything rise - when their income levels have remained static.

In a rural area like East Devon, where public transport is limited and people often have to travel miles to work, making cycling impractical for most, it is all the more worrying.

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The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has been attempting to find out if there is potential to change motorists’ behaviour in a bid to limit the impact of personal travel on climate change.

One of the areas it has been examining is encouraging the use of environmentally friendly driving - something that could help the environment and save motorists money.

In its report Public attitudes towards climate change and the impact of transport, published last year, the ONS reveals that 66 per cent of those surveyed believe the practical part of the driving test should cover more about driving in an environmentally friendly way.

Fifty-five per cent said the Government should do more to enforce the motorway speed limit and 58 per cent said they would be willing to reduce their motorway speeds to help reduce C02 emissions.

But, of those who use their cars more than twice a week, just a quarter were willing to pay to learn to drive in a more environmentally friendly way.

The Opinions Survey questioned just under 1,000 adults in 2010, when the effects of the recession were only just starting to bite.

Two years later, very few families can say they have not been affected by the recession - and more may be prepared to consider changing their driving habits to save money, if not the environment.

Petrol prices rose by 38 per cent between June 2007 and June this year. A 3p-a-litre rise in fuel duty is due to be implemented in January.

So, realistically, can motorists afford to ignore the environmentally friendly driving challenge? MPC Steve Binding, of Devon and Cornwall Constabulary’s driver training unit at Middlemoor, is among those promoting the use of, what he terms, eco-safe driving.

In fact, all the force’s drivers are encouraged to make the most of the tips he has to offer.

He told the Midweek Herald: “Eco-safe driving is a style of driving that increases road safety and reduces fuel consumption and harmful emissions.”

Reducing speed is a crucial factor in cutting fuel consumption.

MPC Binding says driving at 50mph uses 30 per cent less fuel than when travelling at 70mph.

And changing to higher gears at lower engine revolutions while reducing speed can cut fuel consumption by around 15 per cent.

Limiting the use of air conditioning systems can also help.

Their use can increase fuel consumption by as much as 10 per cent.

It all adds up to great money saving potential.

Overall, the cost of motoring soared by 14 per cent in 2011 – bringing it up to an average of �6,689 – or 55.7p per mile to own and run a car, according to the RAC.

In its Report on Motoring 2012, the RAC says costs are prompting more than half of motorists to change the way they drive to conserve fuel.

It states: “Interestingly, while driving to conserve fuel has environmental benefits, only 12 per cent of motorists claim that environmental concerns affect their driving style.”