The prolonged drop in fuel prices shows no signs of abating in the foreseeable future, which is positive since lower prices are making a dent in overall fleet fuel expenditures. However, there is the risk that prolonged lower prices will result in driver complacency to being energy conscious with less focus on fuel-efficient driving. This is important because a large part of the overall fleet fuel spend is influenced by drivers, especially by their driving behaviors. Many of the hard-won increases in fleet mpg can be negated by drivers reverting to less fuel-efficient driving behaviors due to complacency from low fuel prices. One way to keep fuel efficiency a top priority, even in the wake of driver complacency, is to tie it into existing safety and sustainability initiatives.

Safe Driving Equals Fuel-Efficient Driving

Driver safety and the reduction of fuel consumption are complementary 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, and less fuel consumed.

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. In fact, up to 30% of a vehicle’s fuel efficiency is impacted by driver behavior. The net result of making employees safer drivers is an uptick in fuel efficiency. For instance, the lowest level of fuel efficiency occurs during aggressive driving. Speeding, rapid acceleration, and hard braking can lower fuel economy by 33% in highway driving and 5% in urban driving.

Furthermore, 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, a driver is not only safer, but is also saving fuel.

Combining Sustainability and Fuel Efficiency

There is a direct relationship between reducing fuel consumption and the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Many fleet managers are challenged to meet sustainability initiatives due to higher acquisition costs of alternative-fuel vehicles (AFVs), range limitation issues, and an inadequate national refueling infrastructure for AFVs. For those fleets unable to utilize AFV fuels due to fiscal constraints or fleet application requirements, maximizing gasoline and diesel fuel efficiency seems to be the only feasible sustainability solution.

Consequently, for many fleets, improving the fleet’s overall fuel efficiency is the most practical strategy to meet corporate sustainability goals. Improving the overall average fuel economy for the entire fleet is an attainable sustainability goal as manufacturers are continually improving mpg, for all classes of vehicles, especially under the current pressures of upcoming, more stringent CAFE requirements.

In addition, attaining sustainability goals via fuel-economy improvements can be accomplished using existing vehicle assets. One strategy to maximize the fuel efficiency of existing fleet assets is to implement a telematics solution. For example, many fleets are looking at upgraded telematics systems to provide more refined information relative to vehicle performance to squeeze additional mpg improvements.

However, not everything needs to involve a high-tech solution. The easiest, most cost-effective (and most neglected) way to boost fuel economy is to ensure tires are properly inflated. One underinflated tire can cut fuel economy by 2% per pound of pressure below the proper inflation level. One out of four drivers, on average, drives vehicles with one or more underinflated tires. When a tire is underinflated by 4-5 psi below the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure, for example, vehicle fuel consumption increases by 10% and, over the long haul, causes a 15% reduction in tire tread life.

If fuel efficiency is constrained by equipment requirements, the “last mile” to achieving corporate sustainability objectives is modifying driver behavior. This represents another great opportunity for fleet managers to dramatically green their fleets.

A Direct Correlation

In the final analysis, there’s a direct correlation between a fleet’s reduced fuel consumption and the fleet’s reduced GHG emissions and safe-driving techniques. Driver behavior can increase (or decrease) fuel economy and decrease (or increase) emissions. Companies may want to eliminate the burning of all GHG-emitting fossil fuels in all fleet-related activities, but, when practicality and economics doesn’t allow it, maximizing overall average fuel efficiency is a good alternative. Similarly, a safe driver is not only environmentally conscious, but is also a fuel-efficient driver. If you focus on safety, everything else will fall in place. Small increases in mpg can not only result in substantial savings when extrapolated across the entire fleet, but, equally important, it will also contribute to fewer accidents and reduced GHG emissions.

While drivers may erroneously feel they do not have to be as energy conscious because of lower fuel prices, you can still achieve fuel reduction goals by doubling down on your fleet safety and sustainability programs.

Let me know what you think.

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About the author
Mike Antich

Mike Antich

Former Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Global Fleet of Hal in 2022. He also won the Industry Icon Award, presented jointly by the IARA and NAAA industry associations.

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