Road trips mean summer in America, come drought or high water, or gasoline at $4 per gallon. By employing a few easy strategies, our car travel can be a lot greener and cheaper, or, rather, a lot less dear. Here's what to know before you go:

Drive less before you escape. Walk, bike, and take public transport in daily life, and you'll save on gas money and carbon emissions to offset your vacation expenditures. You'll have plenty of company: In response to high prices, Americans are already driving less and buying fewer gas-guzzling SUVs, according to a study released this week. It's the first time since the 1970s and 80s that we're driving fewer miles.

Speed not. Speeding, rapid acceleration and hard braking can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds, wasting $310 per year, based on the DOE's current average gasoline price projections for 2008, says Ronnie Kweller of the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE). The Alliance has just updated its fuel-saving tips; go to DriveSmarterChallenge.org. Even if you don't have such a leaden foot, easing up a bit on the accelerator can increase your fuel efficiency by 10 percent, saving you an average $95/yr., Kweller says.

Plus, stomp-and-go is more polluting. Ever get nauseous in the back of a taxi on a stop-go ride? It makes a fuel tank's gorge rise, too. One second of high-powered driving can produce nearly the same amount of toxic carbon monoxide as a half hour of normal driving, according to greenercars.org. Use cruise control.

Keep your engine tuned and increase fuel efficiency by 10 percent.

Keep your tires properly inflated to reduce drag.

Lug less. Every 100 pounds of weight carried in the car or trunk reduces fuel economy by 1-2 percent. Sorry, Goodfellas.

Park in the shade, which will minimize evaporation of fuel (who knew?), advises the Union of Concerned Scientists.

 

Open windows and turn off car air conditioning when driving at slower speeds. The better to enjoy those shady lanes, the smell of the sea! And, it'll increase your fuel efficiency by 5 - 25 percent, according to the Alliance

For more tips, visit the government's Fuel Economy site. While prices may have topped off for now, falling .2 cents today (we're somehow not impressed), lower consumer demand is the way to really see some relief at the pump. It's already happening.

This article originally appeared in Plenty in June 2008. The story was moved to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008