IAM Council member and former director general of the Road Haulage Association Steve Norris explains how advanced driving techniques can reduce fuel consumption
Reducing fuel consumption can be the difference between profit and loss, and advanced driver training can be the key – the figures speak for themselves.
Take the Department for Transport’s Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving programme (SAFED), for example. It has trained 6,375 LGV drivers, resulting in saving nearly 14 million litres of fuel – the equivalent of almost £10.5m, or more than £1,600 per driver.
The fact that advanced driving doesn’t just make drivers safer but also cuts their fuel bill, is a message that IAM Drive & Survive – the commercial training division of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) – has been promoting for years. And with diesel and petrol prices at their current level, any opportunity to improve fuel economy must be welcome.
IAM Drive & Survive carries out regular case studies and a few years ago organised one in conjunction with Texaco. It was based around the general haulage company John Pearce Glynneath Ltd, which ran a fleet of 51 vehicles ranging from one tonne vans to 41 tonne articulated trucks. Their annual fuel bill was £1.3m, which would translate to nearer £1.55m at today’s inflated prices.
The company was considered the ideal choice for an IAM Drive & Survive pilot scheme aimed at demonstrating how effectively advanced driving techniques can reduce fuel consumption. Called ‘Star Drivers’, the initiative showed how taking relatively simple steps to improve driving standards can dramatically cut a company’s fuel bill.
A Texaco spokesperson explained: “At Texaco we had been convinced for some time that driver skills were the key to achieving fuel reductions for customers, but we needed to demonstrate this convincingly. Our objective was to enable IAM Drive & Survive to raise the professional skills and knowledge of a particular group of professional drivers while maintaining and, if possible, improving the company’s service level to customers. By tracking the process, we would then have the data we needed to prove, or disprove, our theories.”
The first stage of the pilot was for an IAM Drive & Survive instructor to visit the company and present a series of advanced LGV driver lectures, aimed at helping drivers to:
• Maximise their fuel efficiency, and minimise wear and tear on their vehicles
• Improve their knowledge, skill, judgement and flexibility to cope with everyday driving and manoeuvring of LGVs
• Boost hazard perception and risk management
• Understand the health and safety implications of driving for long periods without breaks and the effect of weather conditions on fatigued drivers
• Appreciate the benefits of driver training to the individual, the company and society in general.
Stage two consisted of the same drivers being given practical, on-road training. Fuel consumption figures were then recorded for both trained and untrained drivers as they went about their everyday work. In one typical comparison, a driver trained in advanced driving techniques covered 13,800 miles over a two-month period, at an average of 7.6mpg. Another driver who hadn’t undergone the training covered a similar mileage in the same type of vehicle at an average of just 6.5mpg.
Overall, the results from the pilot study suggest potential improvements in fuel consumption for trained drivers of between 6.9-16.5 per cent. Extending training to all the company’s drivers would have represented a saving of up to £235,000 on the company’s annual fuel bill, at today’s prices.
Company Chairman John Pearce was certainly convinced of the merits of IAM Drive & Survive training for his drivers: “We never realised the economic benefits that could be achieved. But by the end of the pilot scheme, I was convinced. 20 per cent of my drivers are now course trained and I intend to employ a professional driving assessor so that we can undertake in-house training and retraining to maintain the high driving standards achieved.
“Our drivers are equally enthusiastic about the benefits and they take pride in their professionalism. We already have an incentive scheme in place, which rewards them for achieving key performance targets. We also encourage their competitive instincts when it comes to achieving fuel efficiency, by posting results where they can be compared.
“While I hate to give away a competitive advantage, I can wholeheartedly recommend this scheme to the industry!”
For IAM Drive & Survive, the pilot study results provided a strong argument with which to convince potential clients of the value of driver training. In John Pearce’s case, the cost savings of driver training gave a clear net benefit to the company, even after making allowance for the cost of putting a driver assessor on the payroll.
“Some companies still say they can’t afford driver training, although that’s an argument we hear less and less as operators meet their commitment to contemporary health and safety legislation and the duty of care regulations,” says IAM Drive & Survive’s head of Training and Field Operations Simon Elstow. “The Texaco case study was a powerful example of how driver training can prove to be a major saving rather than an overhead.”
Fuel saving strategy
The advanced driving techniques required for truck drivers to boost fuel economy are broadly similar to those used by car drivers, Simon explains: “Observation, anticipation and planning are all vital in maintaining the vehicle’s momentum and avoiding unnecessary braking and acceleration. There’s no point in rushing towards a roundabout so you have to stop and then waste fuel accelerating up through the gears again when, with a bit of forward planning, you could merge with the traffic flow without coming to a standstill.
“Truck drivers have an advantage over the car driver in that the extra height of the cab allows them to see over traffic and hedges, giving them an opportunity to read the road further ahead.
“Truck drivers are also taught how block changing – shifting gear directly from, say second to fifth – can save fuel in a vehicle that may have 15 or more gear ratios. Once a driver has been trained to an advanced standard, the next challenge is to maintain his or her driving at that level – a task that’s made easier by the fact that most haulage companies routinely monitor their drivers’ fuel economy. Furthermore, many modern trucks have in-vehicle monitoring systems that feed information direct to the operator, so they can pinpoint drivers who aren’t driving suitably economically.
“To add a bit of incentive to the proceedings, companies can compile a ranking of their drivers in terms of fuel efficiency and turn this into a competition, thereby encouraging them to improve their averages. Indeed, one of our clients offers a weekend in a sports car as a prize to the driver who returns the best quarterly fuel consumption figures.”
Reducing fuel consumption is one of the quickest and most effective ways a haulage company can reduce its overheads. The potential savings for those with sizeable fleets are enormous and advanced driver training can therefore be a very valuable investment.
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