Some Insistent Hyper-Milers Say That AI Self-Driving Cars Should Be Forced To Drive Like Grandpa, But That’s Messed Up


Yes, I said it, hypermilers.

You might be unfamiliar with the somewhat arcane word “hypermilers” but the odds are that you instantly know what it is all about once you’ve been informed as to the meaning of this somewhat obscure and altogether plain meaning contraction.

In short, do you know anyone that relishes stretching out their car fuel consumption so as to drive the maximum possible distance on a single tank?

Those drivers that cherish that kind of distance garnering attainment are presumably hyper-focused on squeezing out the most miles they can for each iota of fuel in their vehicle. They are, therefore “hyper” milers or via the Merriam-Webster dictionary are prone to hypermiling, namely doing whatever they can to achieve maximal fuel mileage.

Some like to think of this pursuit as an extreme form of energy-efficient driving.

Kind of like a sport, of sorts, although often done with quite sober environmental and ecosystem considerations rather than solely as a physical or mental form of lighthearted puzzle solving. You see, one aspect of being a hypermiler is the technical challenge of the task. Can you calculate and plot out how to maximize your fuel consumption, using all matter of calculus and weighty formulas to derive the spend rate of fuel for the varied nuances while a vehicle is underway?

That type of clever planning is what some hypermilers consider the adrenalin rush of hypermiling. You plan out a driving trip, carefully and with extreme attention to detail. Next, you go on the driving journey and attempt to abide by the detailed plan. Finally, you see how it all came out and hopefully can pop a bottle of champagne that you eked out the maximum number of miles.

One approach entails personal satisfaction as being sufficiently endearing by itself. You pat yourself on the back. That’s it. Another angle consists of telling the world how many miles you ingeniously accomplished. Your fellow hypermilers will be astonished and send you loads of congratulations (well, the jealous ones might not, they are instead plotting how to best your score). The feat might even grab headlines on social media and flash across the globe.

Of course, being a hypermiler does not require that you do particularly extensive and exhaustive beforehand planning. You can instead merely abide by handy rules associated with trying to minimize the fuel consumed while you are at the wheel of a car. You, therefore, drive in a manner designed to seek out the maximum distance and least fuel used, hoping that even without prior planning you will nonetheless still succeed in the hypermiling goal.

I dare say that all of us have had a driving journey wherein we earnestly sought to stretch out our miles.

Maybe you had just a fraction of your tank left of fuel and found yourself on a lengthy stretch of highway without any nearby place to fuel up. The sweat starts to form across your forehead as you realize you might run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere. How many scary movies are there that demonstrate clearly the notion of running out of fuel in the land of nowhere is a really, really, really bad idea?


Okay, so you begin to do whatever you can to maximize the fuel in terms of miles gained. The intent is to make it to someplace that you can refuel. Please, oh please, you plead, let me make it to that next fueling station.

The usual gimmicks and ploys come to mind.

Turn off the heater or the air conditioning since those are bound to be using up fuel that otherwise could go towards propelling the vehicle forward. Sure, it might end up getting bitter cold or searing hot while inside the car, but by gosh you are getting closer and closer to the fueling oasis up far ahead.

Turn off your radio. Unplug those in-car TVs or smartphone chargers. Close the windows to try and create an aerodynamically streamlined structure, based on an assumption (right or wrong) that the wind coursing through the vehicle would trigger added drag and ergo cause the car to use up (needlessly) added fuel.

And so on, desperately so.

In a sense, this is somewhat reminiscent of being on a boat and trying to keep the ship from sinking when it has a bit of a leak underway. Toss over the side any unneeded weight. Try to keep the boat level in the water. Shift the weight inside so that the leaking area is out of the water as much as possible. Bail, do more bailing and pray that the seas are calm.

Back to the world of cars.

A purist hypermiler would normally be aghast at such shenanigans by someone that has neglected to watch their fuel and are insufficiently prepared or woefully ill-prepared. Those honed techniques for stretching out the miles are not something meant for dolts that have carelessly gotten themselves into a low-fuel bind. No, these prized methods are intended for those serious about fuel-saving and fuel efficiencies.

People that get into fuel scarcity predicaments are amateurs and whatever happens, so be it, as they have made their own bed and will simply need to lay in it.

Enough said.

For most of us, we customarily think about liquid petrol or good old gasoline consumption when it comes to fuel efficiency aspects. Electricity is aiming to take over that kingpin spot. To the surprise of some, the advent of electrical vehicles (EVs) has also showcased that fuel consumption is just as worthy of attention, even when electrically powered. There is no free lunch for EVs. They consume electrical power and you can only go so far on whatever amount of electrical power you can muster in your vehicle.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the so-called “range anxiety” associated with EVs.

The concept is straightforward. First, when driving a gasoline-powered car, you know that when you get low on gas you’ll need to find a gas station to fill up. Modern-day society in the U.S. seems to have gas stations on nearly every street corner (not like it used to be, but you get my drift). Generally, a driver of a gasoline-powered car knows they can readily find a place to fill up, notwithstanding those long drives on sparse highways and byways.

The odds of having range anxiety is relatively low for gasoline-powered cars due to the prevalence of gas stations. You can wait until the last possible moment and pull into a convenient gas station to refuel. Happens all the time.

With an EV, the problem right now is that there aren’t that many EV charging stations per se. Not like gas stations. You aren’t likely to find an EV charging station on a typical driving trek. Sure, in some parts of the country where EVs are especially popular there are a sizable number of charging stations, but that’s a drop in the bucket in comparison to gas stations prevalence.

As an aside, I’m not going to cover herein the aspect of the refueling efforts themselves. There is a lot of heated debate that refueling with gasoline is currently quick and easy while recharging for an EV can be time-consuming and somewhat complicated. The EV industry is fervently working on this.

In a nutshell, at this time of our lives, those using EVs are bound to be conscious of the range they can go, along with having to figure out where a charging station will be in case they end up needing a charge while away from their home. You rarely need to figure out where a gasoline station might be, since you naturally assume they are nearby to wherever you might be at any time of wherever you are (again, excluding barren locales).

This takes us to a recent headline-grabbing article in a major business newspaper that said that to keep EVs going, you’ll need to drive like grandpa.

Before we get into the meat of that topic, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that the implication based on such wording is that grandfathers are either tediously slow drivers or ostensibly lousy drivers in one manner or another. That seems like a tired-out trope. For my overall coverage on such matters, see the link here.

I suppose we could also construe this as a compliment of sorts, suggesting that grandpas are thoughtful drivers that care how they drive and do so with wisdom and humanitarian motives at heart. I’ll go with that.

In any case, let’s assume an underlying notion entailing stretching out your fuel while trying to maximize the distance achieved. There are distinctive driving behaviors that can aid in that noble quest.

Earlier I mentioned that you could try to adjust the fuel consumption of the vehicle by turning off devices that might be depleting fuel. Those such devices would be ones that are not doing anything toward garnering miles. You can also try to streamline the structure of the vehicle. Etc.

I purposely left out the whole matter of driving behaviors, wanting to cover that once we got further along in this discussion. We’re there now.

Any savvy driver knows that driving erratically such as hitting the accelerator at green lights and driving like a crazed bat is bound to excessively consume fuel. The rule-of-thumb is steady as you go. The more your driving is consistent, measured, tepid, and genteel, the odds are that you’ll be maximizing your fuel and able to go further distances.

Those too young to have been around in 1974 are perhaps unaware that the basis for the 55 mile per hour federal mandate was due to a nationwide attempt to reduce fuel consumption. The National Maximum Speed Law was enacted as a reaction to the prior year’s oil embargo. Long lines at gas stations and other gas-consuming qualms led to the 55 mph speed limit. Later on, in 1987, the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act altered things to allow for legal speed limits of up to 65 miles per hour. That 65 mph is still recommended, though the National Highway Designation Act of 1995 provided new latitude regarding federal speed limit controls.

The gist of all that was that at heightened speeds you are consuming proportionally more fuel for the miles gained. Engines typically are not running as fuel efficiently at those topper speeds.

What about EVs and optimum speed?

According to the business article that had the flashy headline, the claim is made that the alluded to the sweet spot for EVs is somewhere near to or below a speed of 30 miles per hour. If you can stick close to that speed (or less), the reporting indicated that though many EV’s today have ranges of around 250 to 300 miles, hypermilers have been able to at times double that range by using particular driving behaviors. I won’t comment on the veracity of such a claim, and we’ll just go with it for sake of discussion for now.

The hypermiling driving behaviors are as alluded to earlier. Drive at a measured pace and seemingly do so at less than 30 miles per hour as much as you can. Avoid stop-and-go traffic situations. On downhills, seek to safely use coasting if viable to do so. By the way, something that we’ll gradually see as a popular feature will be the use of regeneration technologies on cars, consisting of turning the energy from braking and the roadway facets into generating electricity that can be poured back into the vehicle battery.

Have you ever been behind a driver that was practicing these kinds of hypermiling driving behaviors?

Most of us have.

Unfortunately, these driving techniques do not at times align with the prevailing driving approaches that are found on our public roadways. A speed limit sign that says 30 miles per hour is a happy sign for the hypermilers. For most of the rest of the driving public, a 30 mph sign is either to be ignored or assumed to actually mean 40 or 45 miles per hour. That’s what a lot of everyday drivers do.

Unless you are driving perchance in a school zone, it seems that contemporary drivers detest going any slower than at least 40 to 50 mph (sadly, even school zones are not necessarily well observed by speedsters). The overall logic seems to be that a car is meant to go, and proceeding at low speeds is absurd. Let the car sing. Use the engine for all its worth.

I feel the need, the need for speed.

And this brings us to quite a sordid conundrum. You’ve got the average drivers that want to push the pedal to the floor. You’ve got the hypermilers that want to proceed at say 30 miles per hour (I realize that the indication was at 30 mph or less, but for ease of discussion allow me to simplify by using 30 as a handy number, though understand that it means henceforth and throughout that it is that number or less).

On top of that, you’ve got the average driver grudgingly willing to be in stop-and-go situations, though they certainly don’t prefer it. Meanwhile, the hypermiler knows that the stop-and-go is absolutely abhorrent and will disgustingly knock out any chances of reaching fuel savings and mileage attaining perfection. Average drivers belly ache about stop-and-go, while hypermilers hyperventilate and realize they despondently will need to throw in the towel on their majestic aspirations.

You could tongue in cheek say that this is like mixing oil and water, or more like fire and ice.

The result can be explosive on the roadways. Road rage erupts. Drivers yell at other drivers. Tempers soar. Someone decides to cut off one of those slowpoke drivers. Someone else tries to skirt around one, but in the meantime enters into the opposing traffic lanes.


When speaking of formulas, the mixing together in traffic of the hypermilers with the average drivers is readily calculated as bad. No good would seem to come out of it. One might hark to a dreamy world in which the average drivers realize the err of their ways and switch over to driving like hypermilers. That is just a dream, sorry to say.

Suppose though that you could somehow force all drivers to drive in the same manner as hypermilers. On a hypothetical basis, that assuredly would be a wonderful world (a brash assertion!).

Let me restate that, would that be a wonderful world?

Apparently, some hypermilers believe in such a utopian state.

There is soon going to be a means of reaching this gleeful nirvana. This could seemingly be achieved by forcing AI-based self-driving cars to always drive in a hypermiling manner. Notably, it would be easy to ensure that self-driving cars strictly abided by a directive to drive always and only on a hypermiling basis.


Here’s a noteworthy question that is worth pondering: Would we be able to force AI-based self-driving cars to drive in a hypermiling manner and if so, what might that foretell?

Allow me a moment to unpack the question.

First, note that there isn’t a human driver involved in a true self-driving car. Keep in mind that true self-driving cars are driven via an AI driving system. There isn’t a need for a human driver at the wheel, nor is there a provision for a human to drive the vehicle. For my extensive and ongoing coverage of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and especially self-driving cars, see the link here.

I’d like to further clarify what is meant when I refer to true self-driving cars.

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars

As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.

These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).

For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.

Self-Driving Cars And Hypermiling

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.

All occupants will be passengers.

The AI is doing the driving.

One aspect to immediately discuss entails the fact that the AI involved in today’s AI driving systems is not sentient. In other words, the AI is altogether a collective of computer-based programming and algorithms, and most assuredly not able to reason in the same manner that humans can.

Why is this added emphasis about the AI not being sentient?

Because I want to underscore that when discussing the role of the AI driving system, I am not ascribing human qualities to the AI. Please be aware that there is an ongoing and dangerous tendency these days to anthropomorphize AI. In essence, people are assigning human-like sentience to today’s AI, despite the undeniable and inarguable fact that no such AI exists as yet.

With that clarification, you can envision that the AI driving system won’t natively somehow “know” about the facets of driving. Driving and all that it entails will need to be programmed as part of the hardware and software of the self-driving car.

Let’s dive into the myriad of aspects that come to play on this topic.

First, it is important to realize that not all AI self-driving cars are the same. Each automaker and self-driving tech firm is taking its approach to devising self-driving cars. As such, it is difficult to make sweeping statements about what AI driving systems will do or not do.

Furthermore, whenever stating that an AI driving system doesn’t do some particular thing, this can, later on, be overtaken by developers that in fact program the computer to do that very thing. Step by step, AI driving systems are being gradually improved and extended. An existing limitation today might no longer exist in a future iteration or version of the system.

I trust that provides a sufficient litany of caveats to underlie what I am about to relate.

We are primed now to do a deep dive into self-driving cars and the role of hypermiling.

First, consider that the AI driving systems will do as they are instructed to do. If we program them or otherwise command them to drive in a hypermiling fashion, this will be a guaranteed outcome. In contrast, if you told human drivers they had to drive like hypermilers, you would find yourself facing a box of chocolates, namely you wouldn’t know what you might get. Assuredly, some drivers would abide, while many others would revolt. You would be likely setting off a firestorm.

I realize that some might wring their hands and contend that the AI could “decide” to countermand the instructions to do hypermiling. This is perhaps based on watching a few too many sci-fi movies. As already mentioned, today’s AI is not sentient. By and large, the AI is going to do whatever it has been programmed to do.

To clarify, if the AI has bugs in it or maybe is able to be cyber hacked, of course, the AI system might do something other than originally instructed. I’ve covered extensively the serious and quite worrisome aspects of AI-based self-driving cars getting cyber hacked, see my discussion on cybersecurity at this link here and this link here.

All told, assuming that we all agreed to force AI driving systems to be hypermilers, that’s what we would have. You would have to likely pass laws that would require the automakers and self-driving tech firms to undertake this route. There would need to be draconian consequences for any self-driving car-making firms or fleet operators that did not abide by such legal stipulations. That would pretty much compel the AI developers to follow suit.

Okay, so that seems to put the matter to bed. Case closed, as they say.

Wait for a second, there’s more.

You are driving down the highway and see a self-driving car up ahead. The speed limit is 55 miles per hour. The self-driving car is going at 30 miles per hour. How does that seem to you?

Messed up.

Imagine the craziness of driving on freeways and highways that also have self-driving cars plodding along. You would have human drivers doing all kinds of frantic antics to get around those slower-moving self-driving cars. The odds are that car crashes would be a nearly inevitable result. Human drivers crashing into self-driving cars. Human drivers crashing into other human drivers.

Demolition derby playing out on our public roadways (for more about demolition derbies and self-driving cars, see my analysis at this link here).

Also, please know that some pundits naively believe that self-driving cars will never get into car crashes and will apparently be crash-free, which is entirely unmitigated hogwash, see my ardent rejoinder at this link here).

The gist of things is that if self-driving cars were all required to drive in a hypermiling strict fashion, you would once again have a huge mismatch going on. Human hypermilers are a mismatch with average drivers. AI-based self-driving cars that are forced to drive as hypermilers would be a mismatch with average human drivers.

One thought is that maybe the AI-based self-driving cars would inspire human drivers to become hypermilers. In short, if you had some semblance of human drivers that were already hypermilers, and you add to the roadways a gazillion self-driving cars that are also hypermilers, you would presume that the average driver might convert over to driving in a like fashion.

It’s one of those lofty postulated viral notions that the more hypermiling driving there is, the more that it stokes.

Frankly, though there would be some average drivers that might relinquish their speed demon impulses, it seems doubtful that any large segment of average drivers would see the light and turn over a new leaf.

Messed up.

I declare that the viral bandwagon effect of widespread hypermiling is highly questionable and goes against human nature.

If you really want to lay down the law, you would need to establish the laws so that all driving had to be done in a hypermiling manner. This would include all human drivers too. The driving tickets and driving violations would need to be unimaginably stiff.

By forcing all driving into the hypermiling mode, you would have homogenous driving on our public roadways. In theory, no one would be trying to go around other cars and would generally be abiding by the hypermiling provisions. You could gimmick the semi-autonomous driving features of human-driven cars to abide by hypermiling, making sure that those conniving human drivers were kept on a short leash.

Another enforcement avenue would be to use the capabilities of self-driving cars. The sensor suite such as video cameras, radar, LIDAR, and the like are always capturing whatever is going on in the nearby driving scene. This can readily be uploaded via OTA (Over-The-Air) electronic transmission, and be provided to law enforcement agencies.

I refer to this vast amount of data collection that we are going to soon encounter as the “roving eye” of self-driving cars. As a chilling point to keep in mind, assuming that self-driving cars are roaming all throughout our communities, day and night, they will be recording whatever is happening. This could spur Big Brother and atrocious privacy intrusions, see my explanation at the link here.

The most ardent of self-driving car proponents would emphasize that the problem with our roadways is that we do allow human drivers. Get rid of human driving. In the United States, there are about 40,000 annual fatalities due to car crashes and an estimated 2.5 million injuries. The hope is that self-driving cars won’t be getting into as many car crashes, especially if you could remove human drivers from our roadways.

What does that mean in a hypermiling context?

Pretty straightforward. If there were only self-driving cars on our roadways, you could have hypermiling to your heart’s content. As mentioned already, the AI driving systems would stridently abide by hypermiling. Since those would seemingly be the only cars on our public roadways, things will be homogeneous in terms of driving practices and behaviors.

My usual retort to those that seek a self-driving car’s only mantra, there will be a backlash of such a magnitude that it will knock your socks off. Some have already said that you will only take away their driving privileges the day that you pry their cold dead hands from the steering wheel.


Maybe we can meet halfway on this hypermiling philosophy.

We program the AI of self-driving cars to use hypermiling when feasible. The rest of the time, hypermiling is not a concern. Voila, you’ve now got a solution in hand.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this is a lot harder to implement than you might think.

There are certainly some obvious driving settings that the hypermiling by the AI driving system is going to be relatively easily ascertained. Would though the nearby human drivers go along? We are back to the mismatch dilemma.

It would seem likely that eventually the hypermiling all told would get less and less used by the AI driving systems.

Furthermore, consider what riders or passengers in self-driving cars might be saying.

You get into a self-driving car and it abides by hypermiling. In turn, this means that rather than getting to your destination in say 10 minutes it takes maybe 20 minutes, due to the slower speeds and attempt to avoid stop-and-go settings.

Will riders of self-driving cars accept this premise of hypermiling? The chances are that people will decide it is better to use human-driven taxis rather than robo-taxis. Why wait or be delayed when reaching your destination, and instead switch over to human drivers that will drive in whatever faster manner will get you to your destination.

In a sense, you might be hampering the advent and widespread adoption of self-driving cars. People would know that using a self-driving car means that you might have to endure longer trip times. Sure, you might be saving on fuel, which is welcomed, but when you need to get from point A to point B, we are unlikely to have people openly touting that they did so while hypermiling. They want to get to where they are going as soon as possible.

I’ll add one other final comment for now on this rather expansive and at times contentious topic.

A tough thing to do when developing AI driving systems is dealing with higher speeds. All else being equal, it is less complex to devise AI to drive at slower speeds, which is partially why you’ve seen those slower-moving driverless shuttles and those slower-moving delivery vehicle bots coming along.

The aspects of having to sense the driving scene, make choices, and enact those choices is a lot less time-constrained when moving at slower speeds. Also, if the AI driving system does end up hitting something, the chances of serious injury or death are considerably lower than when the autonomous vehicle is moving at higher speeds.

Before I get lambasted by my AV colleagues that are indeed devising slower speed autonomous vehicles, allow me to state categorically that any autonomous driving, even at slower speeds, requires an amazing amount of AI. No question about that. They are doing tremendous work. Full stop, period.

My point is that there has always been an undercurrent in the self-driving realm that if we could somehow restrict roadways to slower speeds, it would help immensely toward sooner attaining true self-driving cars. Some have suggested that we should change our roadway infrastructure to accommodate self-driving cars, such as restricting speed limits to slower speeds.

The counterargument is that self-driving cars ought to be able to drive in the manner as human drivers, else we are going to have to jump through costly hoops to get self-driving cars underway. Accept the roadway infrastructure as it is, warts and all.

The next time you go for a drive, try doing some hypermiling. Whatever you do, realize this has to be done mindfully and averting road rage and other adverse calamities is paramount. Do not be an overly obsessive hypermiler that messes things up.

That would be, well, messed up.


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