If you are a conscientious vocational fleet manager, you have probably taken care to ensure that your vehicles are properly spec’d to provide optimum balance among job performance, initial acquisition cost, and long-term operating costs. In addition, you have most likely tried to ensure that your vehicles are properly maintained by qualified personnel. These steps are all critical parts of a total fleet management program, but many fleet managers omit the step of addressing how their vehicles are actually operated on a day-to-day basis.
The minute one of your trucks starts up at the beginning of a work shift, it is almost totally in the hands of the driver. It is common knowledge that the way in which a vehicle is operated impacts the overall operating costs. For starters, it has been demonstrated that in some drive-cycles, driver behavior impacts total fuel consumption by as much as 30%. In addition, the way in which a vehicle is operated can impact just about all vehicle operating systems – including the powertrain, brakes, suspension and steering, and chassis structural components. Finally, some driver behaviors can result in significantly above average accident / damage costs.
How Much Can You Do?
As a fleet manager, your ability to address driver behavior can be significantly limited by labor relations issues, contractual limitations, and even upper management policies. In most cases, this means that before you implement any type of driver behavior modification program, you should work with your labor relations / senior management team to determine what you can and cannot do. In some cases, labor relations may even want to be directly involved. Also, obtaining direct senior management support will help to ensure a more successful program.
What Can You Do?
At the most basic level, driver behavior modification includes the use of print media, including posters, to encourage drivers to: be more concerned with how they drive their vehicles, maintain proper tire pressure, avoid overload, etc. Efforts may also include the use of verbal training sessions, often incorporated into daily briefings and / or safety meetings. Historically, these types of efforts have not proven to be of much value. Fortunately, there are many other options which have proven to be more effective, such as hands-on driver coaching programs, and multiple telematics options.
Driver Training Programs
A number of fleet consulting companies, and at least one OEM, offer programs where a driver receives one-on-one coaching that demonstrates the benefits of improved driver behavior, primarily in the areas of safety and improved fuel economy. These programs can be relatively beneficial for drivers who are really interested in improving their behavior. However, they are of limited benefit to those that are not really concerned –
unless you couple the program with a positive feedback system. The most effective feedback programs are typically telematics-based. If you already have GPS, check with your provider since many GPS (telematics) vendors offer driver behavior tracking packages. The most critical aspect of any driver feedback system is to use the data in a constructive manner. The punitive use of driver behavior data will ensure that your program is a failure, and second, may result in significant labor relations and / or legal issues.
The most effective driver behavior programs, be they vehicle-based or telematics-based, provide the driver with real-time feedback as to their performance. Something as simple as an instantaneous fuel economy feedback, on the vehicle’s dash, can be amazingly effective if the driver is at all interested in their performance. An even more effective approach is gamification. Imagine the green leaves on the dash of some hybrid cars – the more efficiently you drive, the more green leaves you see. In addition to real-time feedback, some telematics-based systems can calculate performance scores for each driver. In addition to fuel economy, these systems factor in such things as hard acceleration and braking, sudden radial maneuvers, and engine idle time.
By assigning drivers to blind identifier codes (frequently done by the telematics vendor), the scores of each driver can be posted without creating any personnel issues. Experience has shown that drivers with high scores often want to have their names revealed, which adds to the challenge for everyone. Another approach is to list the actual names (or use a different blind coding system) for supervisors so that the work crews can see where they stand in relation to the boss. This aspect adds to the gamification of the whole process and makes it more effective.
If for whatever reason you cannot implement a direct driver behavior modification program (typically drive / duty cycle-dependent), you can still take steps to improve the fuel economy of your fleet and reduce excessive engine wear through the use of active idle management and vehicle performance systems. These systems may include:
- Timed idle shutdown systems
- Idle warning alarms (effective on vehicles that do not have shutdown systems)
- Vehicle speed limiter settings (PCM-based)
- Vehicle acceleration rate management systems (PCM-based)
- Tire pressure monitoring systems (standard on newer light duty vehicles)
- Onboard scales (where overloading is a critical issue)
Idle management can often be a challenge for the fleet manager. If your drive and duty cycles often create situations where the vehicle engine is idled for extended periods of time for issues such as cab heating / cooling, stationary electrical load management, etc., you may find that you will need to vehicle electrification alternatives to make the use of idle management systems practical. One fleet that I work with activated the automatic idle shutdown systems on their construction trucks that utilize PTOs to power work equipment. The crews soon discovered that the shutdown system is deactivated when the PTO is engaged, so that took care of the heating / cooling issue during coffee stops. The fleet manager then coupled the vehicle strobe lights (work area protection) to the PTO so that the lights automatically come on when the PTO is engaged. And so the game continues …
What are the Paybacks?
Driver behavior modification systems, often coupled with vehicle electrification systems, can produce multiple benefits. Areas where driver behavior modification can provide benefits:
- Improved fuel economy – often the primary benefit
- Vehicle accident reduction
- Extended engine life (reduced idling)
- Reduce transmission / driveline wear / damage
- Extended brake life
- Reduced steering system wear
- Extended tire life
- Overall reduced vehicle abuse
As I previously noted, some fleets have seen as much as a 30% improvement in fuel economy through the effective use of driver behavior modification programs. Pair this with the other benefits and you have a significant opportunity to reduce your overall operating costs.
If you would like to discuss this, or any other fleet issue with the NTEA, call 800-441-6832