Market Trends

Modifying Driver Behavior: The 'Last Mile' in Greening a Fleet

September 2, 2011

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By Mike Antich

Companies have adopted a variety of strategies to achieve green fleet initiatives, such as adopting anti-idling policies, switching to smaller displacement engines, buying alt-fuel and hybrid vehicles, and downsizing to smaller vehicle segments. However, there's a limit to how much a fleet manager can modify a fleet selector to decrease emissions and maximize fuel efficiency, especially if the majority of the vehicles are gasoline- or diesel-powered. A fleet manager can only downsize so far before beginning to impact the fleet mission. The bottom line is that you can't change the fundamental requirements of your business. You need to move employees and cargo in a cost-efficient manner. This necessitates a minimum equipment requirement to do so.

If you are constrained by equipment limitations, the "last mile" to achieving corporate sustainability objectives is modifying driver behavior. This is possibly the greatest opportunity available to fleet managers to green their fleets. Most company drivers average 20,000 miles per year and driver behavior is a major influence in fuel consumption. To be a truly green fleet, you need to change your drivers' mind-set to make them "greener" drivers. This must be a top priority. The way employees drive their vehicles can either increase or decrease fuel economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  If you change the driving behavior of your employees, you have a direct impact on the amount of fuel consumed and the amount of emissions emitted. Even small increases in mpg can result in substantial savings when extrapolated across the entire fleet. Fleet managers, who have implemented eco-driving training programs, report a 5- to 30-percent reduction in annual fuel consumption by changing driver behavior.

Major fleets, such as Wal-Mart, Xerox, Schindler, Veolia Transportation, and UPS have implemented eco-driving programs designed to modify driver behavior. For instance, FedEx is investigating the integration of five eco-driving practices into its online fleet management system reporting.

The five eco-driving practices, which FedEx successfully tested in Japan, include:

● Minimized idling.
● Gentle acceleration.
● Maintenance of a steady speed.
● Easing off the accelerator early before braking.
● Judicious use of A/C.

In fact, tests conducted by Isuzu show that a single truck, averaging 35,000 miles per year, can reduce fuel consumption by more than 1,200 gallons by simply using eco-driving techniques. At $3.92 per gallon for diesel (as of press time), that would translate into annual savings of $4,700. For a 50-truck fleet, it would be $235,000 per year.

The challenge is to make eco-driving the permanent mindset of all your drivers. Unless you have an enforcement program with incentives, the danger is that drivers will drift back to old behaviors. It has been proven that by using more "carrot than stick," you can maintain these efficiencies over the longer-term. To maintain driver motivation, you need to have an ongoing eco-driving training program for new hires and periodic refresher courses for current drivers, offering tangible incentives for employees who perform well.

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Eco-Driving 101

In essence, the concept of eco-driving is changing driver behavior. Eco-driving refers to specific driving behaviors that can improve fuel economy, reduce operating expenses, decrease GHG emissions, and promote safe driving. In fact, eco-driving practices, by default, make employees safer drivers by discouraging aggressive driving and speeding. Many fleets correctly view eco-driving and safe driving as being intertwined. Besides decreasing fuel consumption, eco-driving also helps to lower other operating costs by extending the life of wear items, such as tires and brakes.

Basic eco-driving practices include knowing the proper way to accelerate and brake, using synchronized traffic lights to a driver's advantage, driving at the optimum highway speed, and understanding when to use air conditioning. For example, aggressive driving (such as speeding, rapid acceleration, and braking) can lower fuel economy by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent on city streets. Minimizing unnecessary idling and maintaining proper tire pressure are other eco-driving practices. A typical fleet sedan consumes half a gallon of fuel for every hour spent idling. Every gallon of gasoline burned produces 19.5 lbs. of CO2 and every gallons of diesel creates 22.1 lbs. of CO2. When idling, you are achieving 0 mpg. Likewise, by monitoring and maintaining manufacturer-recommended tire inflation, you can improve fuel economy by up to 3.3 percent.

Eco-driving isn't rocket science, but it works and represents an effective way to reduce fuel consumption, lower emissions, decrease operating costs, and reduce accidents. To learn more about eco-driving, visit www.ecodrivingusa.com.

If you're serious about achieving sustainability objectives, you need to make the modification of driver behavior a primary focus. It's not a one-time effort; it is an ongoing, never-ending process.

Let me know what you think.

mike.antich@bobit.com

Comments

  1. 1. Phil Moser [ September 06, 2011 @ 03:18PM ]

    Again, it seems like one of your articles is speaking directly to me. I have been touting the benefits of driver behavior modification in order to reduce fuel consumption for a couple of years now. There are three great benefits to this: 1. It doesn't matter what vehicles are in your fleet, this works across the board. 2. You receive immediate results. 3 It is on-going. Once a driver changes their behavior, this becomes a part of their typical driving habits and the beneficial results do not end.

    You mentioned the safety benefits of this method of fuel preservation. Again, you are right on the mark for all of the reasons you stated. Also, driving economically requires the driver to be more aware of their driving actions and surroundings. For example, scanning ahead allows you to see the red light well in advance and you come off the gas sooner. This reduces fuel, saves wear on the brake and decreases the risk of being struck from behind because you are coming to a gradual stop verses and abrupt stop. This is an example of a driver who is paying attention to the task of driving. Paying attention is the absolute key to safe driving and eco-driving helps drivers to remain focused when they are behind the wheel. Wow, saving fuel and being safe. That is truly a win-win.

  2. 2. Richard Battersby [ September 09, 2011 @ 09:46AM ]

    Great article! This is truly a low-cost high-impact opportunity for Fleet Managers. Dave Head in Sonoma County, CA and Bob Stanton in Polk County, FL have really pioneered in this area, which is ofetn overlooked for more "glamorous" fuel savings programs. We also noticed the distinct overlap in safe driving and eco driving techniques when producing our online training modules in these categories last year. Liike Phil says it's a win-win and offers multiple avenues to encourage the same basic practices.

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Author Bio

Mike Antich

Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich has been covering the fleet management and vehicle remarketing markets for more than 20 years. During this period, Mike has written or edited more than 4,600 articles on the subjects of fleet management, manufacturer fleet activities, the fleet leasing industry, and vehicle remarketing. He was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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