Driving a car


Students ask: Would this make you drive differently?

Picture this: you’re late for work and stuck in morning rush hour. There’s a break in the traffic, so you step on the gas before slamming the brakes when movement completely stops. You idle for what feels like 10 solid minutes while sipping a cup of coffee and wishing you’d left your house earlier.

Now, imagine you knew every brake and step on the gas was being monitored by computer software. Would you drive any differently?

Maybe, a group of Gettysburg students say.

As part of an energy challenge posed and funded by trustees emeriti MacGregor, “Mac,” ’68 and Kathy ’70 Jones, students were tasked with pinpointing the behaviors of environmentally friendly driving as well as providing recommendations to the College for reducing fuel costs, lowering the College’s transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions, and improving driving safety. The students who participated in the challenge were part of the public policy capstone course, taught this year by Prof. Howard Ernst, The Eisenhower Institute’s Seiden-Levi Fellow of Public Policy as well as its Environmental Leadership expert.

“I’m impressed with this different approach,” said Mac Jones, reflecting on the students’ findings, which they presented at a symposium called The Holuba Forum, named after Stanley J. Holuba ’68, an alumnus who was passionate about environmental conservation.

Public Policy Seminar

Mac and his wife, Kathy, have their own personal connection to and interest in the topic, having owned Mac Jones Ford and Mac Jones Chevrolet. “I was looking at the performance of the fuel and the mechanics of a vehicle and you’re looking at the behavior of the driver. Thank you for a whole new perspective on this,” Mac told students.

Transportation studies have shown that when drivers avoid rapid acceleration, braking, and speeding and practice other environmental friendly driving practices, they can reduce their fuel consumption by 10-20 percent. In the past, data had been self-reported or collected from simulations, making it unreliable. But with new technology, it’s becoming easier to test the environmental efficiency of different driving practices.

In this case, students used data collected from On Board Dash (OBD) devices installed in the Gettysburg College vehicle fleet. The devices were left in the vehicles for one month, recording information from more than 800 individual trips made by College drivers, students, and staff. One group—a control group—was unaware the devices had been installed while another—the treatment group—was informed that their driving was being observed.

“I was really interested in looking at the effect of gender on eco-driving, especially speeding,” said one student researcher, Sarah Roessler ’16. “What I found was pretty much the opposite. Females sped more than males. But females who knew they were being watched drove differently whereas males did not change their behavior even when they knew they were being watched.”

Roessler said the findings show that something as simple as telling women they are being watched can make them drive more safely—and environmentally efficient.

Other students asked different research questions, but all of the projects focused on eco-driving. Student recommendations to the College included implementing incentives for drivers to reduce their speed and idling times, buying fleet vehicles that were shown to facilitate safer driving, and creating educational programs.

Maggie Baldwin, the assistant director of service and communication for facilities at the College, said the recommendations help the College continue to look for ways to provide economically and environmentally sustainable transportation services to the campus community.

“We are very excited to incorporate these results into our planning processes,” she said.  “The vast range of recommendations allows for the opportunity to work on both short- and long-term goals to create more eco-driving practices in the services we provide.  We are grateful for the opportunity to have partnered with Prof. Ernst and these students on this valuable project.”

Ernst said, “These projects were the culmination of a semester, and it’s exciting to see the students bring all these pieces together and present their findings succinctly and accurately.”

In addition to teaching classes at Gettysburg College, Ernst is a political science professor at the United States Naval Academy and an expert on environmental policy and natural resource management. His ongoing research includes the environmental movement in the United States and the influence of negative elite cues on public opinion regarding environmental issues.

A few of Ernst’s public policy students also participated in The Eisenhower Institute’s environmental leadership program, which he also leads. The group went on several learning trips to places like Irvine, CA, to visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon and Washington, DC, to attend the U.S. Green Building Council’s International Green Building Conference. Students even presented their research at the Pennsylvania Power Dialog in Harrisburg, PA.

“The program melds academic rigor with leadership experiences, and to accomplish that we do a series of student-led studies,” said Ernst. “The beauty of the program is we give students the leeway to succeed and sometimes even fail. What people didn’t see [from the students’ presentations] is where we stumbled and challenged each other, which is where most of the leadership growth happened. Through both programs we give these students opportunities to lead and succeed—and learn when they fall short.”


Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Carina Sitkus, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803

Posted: Fri, 17 Jun 2016

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