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Before the camera went up, Fun Theory says the average speed was 32 km/hour. On the three days of camera operations, the average speed fell to 25 km/hour.

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Take a look at the above fuel efficiency label? Can you understand it? Do you think other people can?

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency released two options for replacing the current fuel efficiency stickers displayed on new car windows. Before releasing these options, the EPA conducted an online survey and sixteen focus groups held around the country, the results of which the Nudge blog has been looking through.

Hopefully, you first noticed the two numbers at the bottom of the label, 4.5 and 3.3. Unless you’re buying a Ferrari, those probably seem too low for a standard miles-per-gallon statistic, right? You look closer and notice that they aren’t MPG numbers at all; they are GPM (gallons per mile) numbers.

GPM is a statistic in the news, thanks to work on the MPG Illusion, which shows that people misunderstand the non-linear relationship between gallons of gas consumed and distance traveled. One of the major implications of this research is that it obscures the value of improvements as fuel efficiency improves. People tend to undervalue small mpg improvements on inefficient gas guzzlers, and overvalue large jumps between two fuel sippers, like a Honda Civic and a Toyota Prius.

There have been many proponents of a new GPM metric, and the New York State Senate recently passed a law requiring it in car dealership showrooms. As part of its research, the EPA investigated consumer response to the concept. For the moment, the EPA found that consumers struggle with the MPG illusion, even when it is explained to them. For those who were able to understand the concept, they still expressed a preference for MPG over GPM because they were used to thinking in MPG terms. The EPA concluded:

It may be said that understanding the MPG illusion is extremely difficult to achieve and does not necessarily lead people to switch to a different type of vehicle nor does it make them prefer gallons per 100 miles over MPG. In essence, people prefer familiarity over facts.

Focus group respondents found the label shown above particularly confusing, not just because of the GPM statistic, but because it is presented in the slider in the upper right-hand corner with a range of 2 (best) to 10 (worst). Without a general knowledge of gas guzzler and hybrid GPMs, the scale made little sense. In the end, the EPA decided to continue using MPG estimates as the primary fuel consumption statistic. “If there is a desire to introduce ‘gallons per 100 miles’ estimates,” the agency concluded, “do so in a way that positions it as additional information and use the same font size for presenting the MPG and gallons per 100 miles information.”

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Reader Stephen Young says giving up your car is one way to improve your health, wealth, and happiness. And without a car, you won’t need a driveway. Young proposes that the government pay you to sod it.

The climate is changing, and rainfall is becoming more unpredictable. When it rains, it tends to be more intense. This puts a great strain on surface drainage systems. Normally, a proportion of rainfall infiltrates into the ground, but in urban areas, properties and roads mean more paving and less natural drainage. The Pitt Review’s study of the UK’s disastrous floods of 2007, published by the UK government in June 2008, officially recognised that paving over front and rear gardens with impermeable surfaces increased the risk of floods. In autumn 2008 the UK law will be amended, removing householder’s automatic rights to eliminate permeable surfaces by converting them to car parking spaces. If this sounds trivial, it isn’t. A report in 2005 showed that around 2/3 of London’s front gardens had been partially or wholly covered in hard surfacing. Not so surprising since, at the moment, the economic incentives point towards paving over your garden to make more car parking: that way, you’ll save the fees charged by many local councils for on-street parking.

Government should give grants (eg, up to £500) as an incentive to householders to re-instate their front gardens, removing the paved-over car parking spaces that many have become, and putting back the permeable surfaces (ie, soil, shrubs and grass). Not only would this improve drainage and reduce flood risk, it will provide wildlife havens, absorb more solar heat, enhance the townscape, reduce the number of pavement crossovers thus making pavements safer for pedestrians, and provide additional wind barriers. Providing such grants may sound expensive. But the cost of the UK floods of 2007 has been put at £3billion by the Association of British Insurers, which assess the average cost of a flood to be £20,000 per property. This is in addition to other substantial costs, which are met by central government, local public bodies, businesses and private individuals.

In this context, a grant per household of a few hundred pounds is a bargain – it gives us back our gardens, reduces the economic consequences of floods, and makes life better for all of us by improving the townscape.

*Here in the U.S., the paper currency is still green.

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