The Shortcut — Targeting these four gas-guzzling driving behaviors can significantly improve your fuel efficiency, putting money back into the bottom line. And as a bonus, mitigating three of these behaviors also increases fleet safety. Read on to find out what these behaviors are and how to put a stop to them.
National average diesel-fuel prices on August 7 hit an annual high at $2.57 a gallon, up 36 cents from a year earlier, according to the Energy Information Administration’s latest report. Although still far lower than the heights reached in 2008, diesel prices are still projected to steadily climb through 2018, according to the EIA.
For motor carriers, fuel costs are typically the largest line-item expense, accounting for anywhere between 30 percent to 40 percent of a carrier’s cost per mile, according to the American Transportation Research Institute. While there’s relatively little you can do about retail diesel prices, you do have considerable power to influence how much fuel your fleet uses per mile.
By adjusting four driver behaviors, companies can significantly reduce their fuel costs, said Rob Abbott, commercial leader, enterprise trucking, at Lytx. Those behaviors include speeding, hard acceleration, idling, and racing from red light to red light. Here’s how you can identify and cut down on those gas-guzzling behaviors:
1. Put the brakes on speeding.
In general, for every five miles traveled above 35 mph, you reduce fuel efficiency by 5 percent to 10 percent, according to a 2008 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office. That’s because, at speeds above 35 mph, air resistance increases exponentially as the vehicle goes faster, creating drag that forces the vehicle to use more fuel to maintain the higher speed, the report explained.
Leverage technology to identify who among your drivers are speeding most often, Abbott advised. Start by sharing with each driver the data you have on his or her speeding events, including video, to show that you are aware of the infractions. You can also explain the downsides of speeding, such as how much it costs the organization, its impact on safety, and that speeding is against the law. Most drivers will clean up their act. Be sure to communicate the company’s policy for repeat speeding violations and enforce them.
2. Be a smooth operator.
Hard accelerations are not only hard on vehicle transmissions, they also take a toll on fuel consumption. Fuel efficiency generally drops the faster you accelerate. That’s because flooring the gas pedal sends a surge of fuel to your engine—far more than it would need to achieve the same speed more gradually.
Again, tech can help you identify which drivers display patterns of hard acceleration. Unlike speeding, which is a willful act, jackrabbit starts are more likely to be a habit, Abbott said. “It’s just how that person has driven.”
One of the better ways to help reduce hard accelerations is to have an experienced driver go on the road with drivers to show them the benefits of driving more smoothly, without losing any time, Abbott suggested. You can also recognize drivers who don’t have that issue and post their names on a list. “Those who aren’t on the list will want to get on it.”
3. Cut the engine.
Idling is the best way to get zero miles per gallon. Vehicle telematics systems that include GPS sensors can help you identify instances of idling. If the vehicle is not moving and the vehicle is on, then it’s idling. Of course, there are times when idling is unavoidable, such as traffic congestion, red lights or stop signs. Most companies configure their systems to flag idling that lasts more than three minutes in order to target those instances where turning off the engine is an option. In addition, states have different regulations on the maximum time commercial vehicles are allowed to idle, ranging from three minutes to 15 minutes. (The ATRI has a handy, two-page table of idling regulations listed by state.)
Once you isolate instances of avoidable idling, driver coaching is the first path, Abbott said. “Share the idling data with the driver. If appropriate, explain if it’s violating any laws” he said. “Remind them of the environmental damage and the cost of fuel.” Another tactic is to use company-wide reports on idling. Recognize the people not having idling events by posting a list of people who have not had any idling events.
4. Stop going nowhere fast.
Racing from red light to red light is one of the best ways to destroy fuel efficiency. Argonne National Laboratory’s principal mechanical engineer Stephen A. Ciatti explained in an interview with Phys.org that “The harder you accelerate, the more power you need, and that all goes to waste as soon as you hit the next red light.”
To address this behavior, use on-the-road training. Spend time with the driver to show how to ease off the gas and take advantage of momentum whenever possible to carry the truck forward. When a coach is in the cab with the driver, it’s easy to show that racing rarely buys any time, and can lead to more breakage due to sudden cargo shifting or, for vehicles carrying passengers, lead to discomfort or injury claims from riders.
Bonus pro-tip: When you’re idling at a red light, you’re essentially a sitting duck, Abbott said. There’s nothing you can do to avoid an accident. But if you’re traveling at a smooth, steady speed, you retain the ability to maneuver out of a collision.