When the City of Waterloo in Ontario conducted a four-month trial of a fuel-efficient driver training program, it was able to improve the score among the 20 test vehicles by 17%. A simulator program from Virage Simulation taught drivers to reduce harsh acceleration and harsh braking.
During the initial phase of the project, which set a baseline via a telematics system, vehicle operators exhibited hard accelerating events 8% of the time they accelerated and hard braking events 15% of the time they stopped. After their eco-driver training experience, these metrics improved to only 5% and 9%, respectively.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport Partnership, a driver training program that improves fuel economy by 5% could save over $3,000 in fuel costs and eliminate 8 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per truck each year.
But you may not have the extra capacity to be able to offer on-the-road training. And while classroom training is valuable, driving simulators offer another, more interactive level of training.
Training that targets fuel efficiency can help drivers recognize and change driving habits that waste fuel. For example, driving 65 mph instead of 55 mph can use up to 20% more fuel, and driving with the engine rpm too high can waste several gallons of fuel each hour. Other common habits that reduce fuel economy are frequent or improper shifting, too-rapid acceleration, too-frequent stops and starts from failing to anticipate traffic flow, and taking circuitous routes.
“Fuel-efficient shifting techniques are best taught with a simulator,” says Greg Collins, contracts/marketing manager for Doron Precision Systems. “You won’t waste any fuel or grind up any clutches in a simulation lab!”
Simulators help drivers learn proper shifting techniques without the fear of damaging equipment, points out Mike Speers, manager of business development for DriveWise Canada. “Proper shifting and acceleration can lead to greater fuel efficiency. We also have an interface that provides a graphic representation of a driver’s fuel consumption and correlates it to his/her driving habits. For example, improper use of eye lead time results in hard braking, and rapid acceleration is often the follow on reaction. Our interface shows the correlation of these behaviors and fuel consumption.”
In addition to being able to teach fuel-efficient driving techniques in the simulator, doing simulator training saves fuel in and of itself compared to using the real truck, Collins points out.
“One can train up to four drivers at the same time in a simulation system, which is impossible on the road. That’s a serious cut in fuel consumption.”
Virage says research using its Eco-Drive Pro program found that it can improve driver fuel efficiency between 4-24% after training.
“The program is designed for drivers with years, even decades, of experience behind the wheel,” explains Virage President Remi Quimper. “We don’t tell the drivers what to do, but help them understand the physics behind fuel consumption. Instead of telling you what to do, we make you aware of what your fuel consumption is, and why is your truck or vehicle consuming fuel.
“The simulator is the only way we can see these forces in real time and how they interact with each other.”
Virage’s chief software architect, Danny Grenier, demonstrated the Eco-Drive simulation at the American Trucking Associations’ recent Management Conference and Exhibition. He emphasizes that it is “based on the physics of the vehicle, and not someone’s opinion of how we save fuel,” he said.
The simulation graphically illustrates the forces acting upon the vehicle that affect its fuel use — gravity, acceleration, aerodynamics, the engine, braking, and rolling resistance.
In a challenge mode in a city driving situation, the trainee competes against a computer-generated typical driver who jackrabbits off from stoplights and races ahead to the next, wasting fuel all the way. Grenier, however, accelerates and brakes gently and gradually, and tries to maintain his speed in a way as to avoid having to stop at the next light.
“You adapt your speed to the traffic around you, the lights in front of you,” he explains.
By the end of the short test route, he’s achieved 5.4 mpg compared to the other driver’s 2.4 mpg — using nearly 57% less fuel. A summary readout highlights how much fuel was consumed by the various physical factors mentioned. Acceleration, braking and engine performance were all significantly better.
When training a driver, the simulator program starts with a pre-evaluation of the driver’s eco-driving skills. After training, a final evaluation will measure the improvement in fuel consumption.
“Say a driver can use these techniques at 10% of stoplights,” Grenier says. “At the end of the day that adds up to significant fuel savings for a fleet.”