Living in electric dreams?

Blog post posted on 07/01/20 |

Christmas was an opportunity to catch up with family, friends…and the odd bit of TV. Relaxing on the sofa, surrounded by abandoned chocolate wrappers, I was struck by the car ads I saw. So many of them were for electric vehicles, the drive to a greener and more environmentally friendly approach to travel seems to have finally taken off.

It all put me in mind of one of my highlights from 2019, when I drove my first electric vehicle. And not just any old electric vehicle either. I was lucky enough to take a drive in an I-Pace, Jaguar’s first full battery-electric vehicle.

I’ve been driving a hybrid car for the last couple of years and I was excited to have the opportunity to try out an all-electric car. I’d love to go electric and I was interested to find out how different a driving experience it is.

And what I discovered was just how different it really is.

The quiet start, I was expecting. The handling – accepting my normal car isn’t a Jaguar – was largely similar. What took some getting used to was the use of the accelerator and brake pedals.

In my experience a hybrid car behaves much like a petrol or diesel vehicle. Take your foot off the accelerator and your speed decreases gradually. Using the advanced driving principles of observation, anticipation and planning means driving smoothly by adjusting the amount of acceleration gently, with less need to dab or jab the brakes to adjust to the speed of other vehicles and the prevailing conditions and speed limits.

It also helps with fuel economy, always a bonus in my view.

An all-electric car is a different kettle of fish completely. Slowing down is dramatically different. As you take your foot off the accelerator, instead of speed gradually reducing you slow down immediately and rapidly.

Approaching a roundabout, I instinctively moved to cover the brake, in case I needed to stop completely, just as I was taught and have done for my 30+ years of driving. I was almost stationery in a heartbeat and way too far back from the junction.

By a process of trial and error – hopefully more trial than error – I discovered that almost all the driving is on the accelerator. The skill is to balance the accelerator pedal and slow down progressively. The only time you really end up touching the foot brake is when you’re stationary.

The point of all this, for me, was that while I made adjustment to my driving style to take into account the vehicle, I felt more vulnerable out on the road. I wasn’t helping other road users and I was driving in a way that made me unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

Now I’m sure those of you who are much more familiar with cars and probably the laws of physics than me are wondering how I could have been so naive.

But that’s the point.

Because sooner or later we’re all going to try out and even choose to drive an electric vehicle. And in order to do so safely and enjoyably, we’re all going to have to learn new driving skills which take into account a different response from the vehicle.

Researching for this blog, I discovered that my experience is a common one. And while it can take some people a few moments to accommodate the change in driving style, for others it could take considerably longer and carry more risk, for all road users.

What’s the solution? Well, as this is about driver behaviour, it’s my view that IAM RoadSmart could have a valuable role to play. I am frequently asked what we believe our long-term future is if autonomous cars are just around the corner.

This feels like a more immediate opportunity and one which I hope we will find ways to rise to.

Meantime, I wonder how many more pennies I need to add to the piggy bank to afford one…?

By Kate Tonge, IAM RoadSmart director of marketing, communications and membership