Car Trains Drivers to Be Less Aggressive

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 16, 2018

Dear Car Talk:

We recently bought a 2016 Prius. In general, we love it. We're averaging mileage in the mid-50s. But I have one complaint: After each ride, it gives you a driving score from 1 to 100; if it thinks your score is too low, you get "helpful" driving hints. What the heck does it know about driving? It gets driven, but it has never driven anywhere on its own -- it's not a self-driving car. I've been driving for decades before it was even born! If I slam on the brakes to avoid some moron who has just swerved in front of me, it most likely will advise me to decelerate more smoothly.

But the most aggravating feature is that it consistently gives my wife higher scores than mine. I generally get scores in the mid-60s or 70s (along with helpful driving hints), whereas she consistently gets scores in the 80s and even sometimes in the 90s. I think it's prejudiced against men. So, my question: Is there any way to disable this annoying feature without having to spend thousands of dollars? -- Mike

It's measuring aggressiveness, Mike. And judging from the tone of your letter, it looks like it might be on to something!

If you want better mileage -- and if you want your car to last longer -- driving gently is among the best things you can do. This annoying "score" is measuring how gently you accelerate, how steadily you cruise and how infrequently and gently you brake. And it's telling you something I'm sure you already know: that you're an animal, Mike, and your wife is not. I'm sure your wife anticipated this problem when she talked you into trading in your Dodge Charger for this Prius.

Psychologists know that if you want to change behavior, you have to measure it. So, by giving you a score, and tacitly encouraging you to beat your score, the car is trying to train you to do the things that improve your mileage. Pavlovian games like this work on most people -- we're a lot more like lab rats than we like to admit.

I suppose, Mike, you could try to spite it and play a game to see how low a score you could get. Then you can try to convince your wife that it's like blood pressure -- the lower, the better. But I don't think she's going to buy it.

And unfortunately, there is no way to turn off or disable the scoring. You may be able to choose a different information screen (like the messages screen), but then you'll lose all the other useful information that the mileage screen provides.

So I'd make peace with it, Mike, and try following its suggestions. Or, if that fails, try sabotaging your wife's braking score by yelling "Watch out!" every few minutes.

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