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Market Trends

Implementing a Single Strategy to Improve Driver Safety and Lower Fuel Spend

July 9, 2014, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

While surveying commercial fleet managers about their buying inclinations for the 2015 model-year, I included an additional question asking fleet managers to identify the greatest challenge facing their fleet operations. Recognizing that we were surveying a broad cross-section of corporate America, I was not surprised to receive a list of numerous challenges; however, two challenges stood out head-and-shoulders above all others — driver safety and the cost of fuel. In the survey responses, many fleet managers wondered aloud as to what else they can do to reduce fuel spend and improve driver safety? Are they doing enough?

Two Hot-Button Issues

Driver safety is a hot button issue for almost every fleet. The accident rates for corporate fleets average around 20 percent, with some industries, such as pharmaceuticals, being even higher. Driver distraction is the cause for 25-30 percent of all fleet-related preventable accidents, which makes it a constant concern for fleet managers and management alike.

The types of vehicles offered today to fleet drivers are the safest in the history of the automotive industry, but it is all for naught if the driver is distracted. But, new onboard safety technology comes with associated incremental costs. One issue that worries fleet managers is the added onboard vehicle technology, which they feel may contribute to driver distraction.

The next greatest challenge reported by fleet managers is how to offset the rising cost of fuel and the difficulty to properly budget for fuel price volatility. With fuel costs surpassing depreciation as fleet’s largest expense, it remains a challenge to mitigate these costs with limited resources while not increasing total cost of ownership (TCO). The challenge is not only managing fuel costs, but also forecasting them for future budgets, which is difficult to do with price volatility.

Managing the fleet’s fuel cost and reducing its global carbon footprint is high on the list of goals for many fleet managers. For many fleets, they have downsized from six- to four-cylinder engines. Some have reevaluated the business need of the fleet and moved from a fleet dominated by mid-size SUVs to more fuel-efficient smaller crossovers and sedans. With the help of fuel card providers and fleet management companies, fleets are able to closely monitor fuel consumption and spend. Exception reports are used as a teaching tool to train drivers for the proper use of the fuel card and to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Again, fleet managers ask themselves: Is there more that can be done?

Not Mutually Exclusive Goals

Driver safety and the reduction of fuel consumption are not mutually exclusive goals. There are many similarities between fuel-efficient driving techniques and safe driving techniques. In fact, there’s a direct correlation between safe driving and fuel efficiency. It’s been proven: the safer the driver, the higher the miles per gallon.

Most company drivers average 20,000 miles per year and driver behavior is a major influence in both the probability of a preventable accident and fuel consumption. How employees drive a company vehicle determines how safe they will be on the road and their fuel efficiency. Driver behavior can increase (or decrease) fuel economy and decrease (or increase) emissions. In fact, up to 30 percent of a vehicle’s fuel efficiency is impacted by driver behavior.

For instance, changing driver behavior using a safe driving program can result in a 5- to 30-percent reduction in annual fuel consumption and help reduce preventable accidents. The net result of making employees safer drivers is an uptick in fuel efficiency. To illustrate, consider that the lowest level of fuel efficiency occurs during aggressive driving. Speeding, rapid acceleration, and hard braking can lower fuel economy by 33 percent in highway driving and 5 percent in urban driving. Time studies show that fast starts and weaving in and out of traffic don’t save much time, wastes fuel, and more quickly wears out components, such as brakes and tires. A key principle of safe driving is that, by limiting acceleration and fast braking, a driver can increase fuel economy and minimize the potential of a preventable accident. Avoiding jackrabbit starts, unnecessary changes in speed, and using cruise control during highway driving all improves fuel economy. Even small increases in mpg can yield substantial savings when extrapolated across the entire fleet.

Driving economically requires the driver to be more aware of his or her driving actions and surroundings. For example, scanning ahead allows you to see a red light well in advance and you come off the accelerator pedal sooner. This reduces fuel use, saves wear on the brakes, and decreases the risk of being struck from behind, because you are coming to a gradual stop versus an abrupt stop. By paying attention to the task of driving, the driver is not only safer, but is also saving fuel and reducing emissions.

The biggest obstacle to fuel efficiency and fleet safety initiatives is often company drivers themselves. One difficulty cited by responding fleet managers is the challenge in getting drivers to buy into fuel-efficiency initiatives and appreciate the potential savings. Safe driving techniques teach drivers to avoid distractions and focus on driving. These driving habits, likewise, contribute to reduced fuel consumption and emissions. A safe driving program allows a company to leverage constrained resources to simultaneously increase the fuel efficiency of the fleet and reduce its liability exposure by lowering the incidence of preventable accidents.

Sounds like a win-win for all concerned.

Let me know what you think.

[email protected]  


  1. 1. mike [ July 13, 2014 @ 06:23AM ]

    There is a propane injection system to increase fuel economy. It is a suplimental fuel not a primary fuel. It is really good for you're engines life. It works by completing to burn of the fuel being used and by doing so reduces emissions dramatically. There is less carbon buildup in you motor because the fuel is being burned completely which in turn extends the life of the oil which means less shop time. By using propane vapor as a supplemental fuel you increase the power you're motor is putting out. If you don't floor board the truck and drive responsible the extra power turns into fuel economy as much as 30% on most of my fleet. My driver's love this system it has cut route time on hilly routes because they no longer need to down shift as much by cutting 1 1/2 hours off what was a 5 hr dedicated letting us do 2 loads a day with one truck and still use 15% less fuel. Other driver's love only fueling every other day and having the extra power to pass on hills when needed. I was able to pay for the propane units in the first month and now it's all savings. I got the units from Ecobust propane of michigan the guys name was Lee he was very good to deal with his number is 989 429 3921. I have had mine for 3 years and I can't believe everyone doesn't have them yet.

  2. 2. Anthony Foster [ July 14, 2014 @ 11:54AM ]

    A safe driver is an economical driver and an environmental driver... Focus on safety and everything else will fall in place. As for idle reduction, monitor it but also equip your vehicles with remote start. Why, if you have ever worked in the field it isn't climate controlled so remote start helps the fleet manager to mitigate idle time. For instance, remote start provides sufficient time for the vehicle to cool or heat the inside of the vehicle which is the driver’s main reason to idle. If they driver gets side tracked and forgets, like we all have, the vehicle will turn off. Hope this helps… ant

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Mike Antich

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Mike Antich has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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