Keep up with proper preventive maintenance and comply with company vehicle cycling policies to help reduce the likelihood of significant repairs or the risk of breakdowns.  - Photo: Gettyimages.com/kupicoo

Keep up with proper preventive maintenance and comply with company vehicle cycling policies to help reduce the likelihood of significant repairs or the risk of breakdowns. 

Photo: Gettyimages.com/kupicoo

When looking at truck or van fleet operations, you have the driver, the vehicle, and the fleet manager all impacting the overall productivity of an efficient fleet. Like a three-legged stool, each must equally support the overarching goal of a specific fleet’s operation. A shortcoming in any one area will have a cascading effect on all areas of fleet.

Part 1 of this three-part series on productivity digs into driver productivity. A productive driver is essential to ensuring a fleet operation is safe and efficient.

Top 7 Causes of Lost Driver Productivity

1. Lack of Training 

The top cause of lost driver productivity is related to training.

“A lack of driver training is the first productivity killer, followed by limited driving experience. Drivers need to understand the intricacies of the equipment they operate. With the changes in technology over the years in commercial vehicles, many drivers feel as though they can simply operate the equipment the way they always have. The advancements in truck technology require drivers to have open minds in learning new techniques to optimize the trucks efficiently,” said Dan Klebba, general manager of PacLease Grand Prairie and Fort Worth, Texas.

Often, the driver in a typical vocational fleet is not just a driver; they’re likely a skilled technician or frontline employee who performs a unique job function. 

“In this scenario, it is usually a challenge for drivers to juggle tasks associated with fleet vehicles and the requirements of their particular role in the field. For example, every hour they spend tending to their vehicle — taking it for service, conducting necessary inspections, completing registration paperwork, etc. — is an hour not spent focusing on their primary job function. And for some organizations, this problem is significantly amplified if employees possess a niche or highly specialized skill,” said Ed Powell, manager, Business Intelligence and Analytics for ARI.

2. Unsafe Driving 

Unsafe driving habits and behaviors, such as distracted driving, have the potential to be disastrous for driver productivity levels. 

“According to a survey conducted by insurance comparison company The Zebra, 37.1% of people surveyed agreed that distractions on a mobile device impaired their ability to drive safely, and 28.6% of people surveyed admitted to doing it. The knock-on vehicle downtime following an accident also leads to lost driver productivity. Regardless of whether the driver was injured or not, the vehicle would need to be off the road to have the necessary repairs made,” said James Brand, product manager for LeasePlan USA.

A driver incurring moving violations, at risk for preventable accidents, or unfamiliar with fleet policy may be at risk for self-inflicted downtime.  

“Fleet policy, if not the law, may prevent a driver from operating a vehicle as violations accrue, and depending on the violation. Drivers at risk of accidents or in an accident are at risk of downtime from injury as well as company policy that may deem the driver a risk,” said Alec Walker, senior data strategist for Donlen.

3. Mechanical Issues

When fleet vehicles aren’t up and running, neither are their drivers. 

“Factors such as accidents, breakdowns, and mechanical issues that require repairs incur costly downtime that inhibits drivers from doing their jobs and serving customers. In turn, this hurts revenue, driver satisfaction, and customer satisfaction,” said Nate Niese, director, national client partnerships for Mike Albert.

Proper maintenance is essential to ensure vehicles stay on the road and operate safely.

“Mechanical issues affecting downtime can range from the lack of preventive maintenance to operating and running vehicles far beyond their realistic expectations in terms of age and mileage,” said Jeremy Green, sales & marketing manager for Union Leasing. 

For drivers, roadside breakdowns, as well as unexpected traffic and congestion, can lead to lost productivity. 

“Other causes include drivers not following their designated route or being stopped at DOT stations for not meeting DOT standards,” said Todd Elmore, corporate rental manager for Enterprise Truck Rental. 

4. Inefficient Processes 

Drivers also lose productivity due to inefficient processes. 

“One of the areas where this is most prevalent is in logging miles and hours for compliance. Vehicle downtime is another area of concern, especially in the case of trucks that are upfit with specialized equipment. With specialized equipment or vocational vehicles, maintenance shops may need to order special parts, which can significantly extend downtime,” said Lawrence Liu, senior fleet consultant for Merchants Fleet.

Tedious tasks that are not directly related to the job divert the driver’s time and focus from getting the job done and keeping customers happy. According to Niese of Mike Albert, these tasks include:

  • Tracking and reporting fleet expenses for items like maintenance, tolls, violations, registrations, and fuel.
  • Dealing with expired registrations and violations. 
  • Obtaining the necessary state required documents for registration.

5. Improperly Equipped or Designed Vehicles

Downtime related to maintenance and repairs and not having a fleet replacement plan in place to cycle vehicles in and out can both impact driver productivity. 

“The impact of these translates to fleet manager productivity as well, which is why it is important to have the right vehicles when they are needed, for the right term,” said Frank Thurman, VP of operations for Enterprise Fleet Management.

Additionally, not having a vehicle with the right equipment at a specified time can lessen productivity. 

“For example, with loading and unloading a box truck, it is important to have the right liftgate, whether that be a tuck away or rail gate to move the appropriate product safely and efficiently,” said Elmore of Enterprise Truck Rental. 

If a work truck or van is not appropriately designed and equipped for the job, it makes it difficult for the driver to efficiently and thoroughly serve a customer’s needs. 

“When we work with a new client, too often, we find that they have not been advised properly on selecting the correct type of vehicle and upfitting to support the job at hand effectively,” said Niese of Mike Albert.

A less than optimal vehicle may put both driver and vehicle at risk from downtime due to unplanned repairs.  

“For example, a ½-ton truck overloaded and performing the function of a ¾- or 1-ton truck may be more prone to unplanned suspension, brake, and other repairs. It’s easy to believe that fully loading an asset and making one trip versus two is a sign of productivity. However, overloading may lead to unplanned downtime and expense,” said Walker of Donlen.

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6. Ineffective Routing 

Ineffective routing and data insights can cause a vehicle to be on the road longer than necessary or cause it to be misused (excess breaking and accelerating, speeding, idling, etc.). 

“Poor route planning causes cost and time inefficiencies due to longer routes and overtime expenses and can lead to needless jobs lost for the company and driver,” said Saad Ahmad, consultant, strategic consulting services, Element Fleet Management.

7. Compliance Neglect

Compliance neglect may also lead to driver loss of productivity.   

“A vehicle that is not compliant with maintenance schedules may be prone to unplanned repairs and related downtime, potentially leaving a driver grounded. Similarly, where DOT and registration compliance are not met, driver productivity may be less. Finally, a driver that has not fulfilled his or her driver checklist obligations may be at risk of being grounded, leading to loss of productivity,” said Walker of Donlen.

Grounded vehicles prevent the driver from completing job functions. 

“Additionally, driver legality issues such as missing required work permits, licenses, and safety training result in driver downtime,” said Ahmad of Element Fleet Management.

9 Tips to Increase Driver Productivity

Fleet operators should be as proactive as possible to reduce the administrative burden for their drivers.  - Photo: Gettyimages.com/VM

Fleet operators should be as proactive as possible to reduce the administrative burden for their drivers. 

Photo: Gettyimages.com/VM

1. Focus on Training

Likely the most obvious solution to the driver-related productivity challenges, but a robust driver training program is essential. 

“One of the easiest ways to increase fleet driver productivity is through training. This can include seasonal driving, backing up, staying up to date on new laws and regulations. Having an up to date policy and procedure for accidents and repairs can minimize vehicle downtime,” said Green of Union Leasing.

To ensure good driving habits that keep a driver on the road and productive, start at the time of hire with the background check.  

“Once onboarded, a driver should be introduced to and acknowledge the fleet policy.  Training may be used to promote performance as well as used to correct unfavorable behaviors as those behaviors occur. Training videos are a great way for drivers to understand what their responsibilities are and how to perform them correctly. Safety training videos are especially good for drivers to help reduce distracted driving and make sure they stay safe on the road,” said Walker of Donlen.

Drivers should also follow health and safety guidelines to reduce the amount of stress they put on their bodies. 

“As an example, using the steps to get out of a truck instead of jumping down can help users avoid unnecessary injuries that may slow them down or even prevent them from working entirely. We also must mention the current pandemic in terms of driver health and safety. Stay safe and follow the guidelines, or else you’re sure to be less productive at work,” said Brand of LeasePlan USA.

2. Define the Ideal Driver

One way to increase a fleet’s driver productivity is for the company to define the attributes they are seeking in their ideal driver candidate.

“In addition to defining the ideal candidate, design interview questions tailored to these desired traits. Additionally, implement a thorough onboarding and training process. Some top fleets report having as much as a two-month training process to properly onboard their new drivers,” said Klebba of PacLease.

3. Properly Maintain Vehicles

Keep up with proper preventive maintenance and comply with company vehicle cycling policies to help reduce the likelihood of significant repairs or the risk of breakdowns.

"Mobile maintenance is another option if the fleet operates out of a centralized location. This option can be helpful since routine maintenance like oil changes could be scheduled for times when the driver is not using the vehicle instead of having the driver use part of their day to take the vehicle in for service. Outsourced or automated solutions for items like hours of service reporting can also help drivers be more efficient in their work,” said Liu of Merchants Fleet.

Properly manage downtime and have drivers held accountable for complying with schedules and regulations. 

“Follow a preventive maintenance protocol; bring the vehicle in for regular services and forecast downtime. Often, these stops allow mechanics to spot potential mechanical failures before they occur,” said Joshua Swanberg, fleet partnership team lead for Element Fleet Management.

4. Properly Spec Vehicles & Equipment

The vehicle that a driver is operating also impacts downtime and maintenance. 

“Drivers should have late model trucks that are well maintained to meet the latest DOT regulations and standards,” said Elmore of Enterprise Truck Rental. “They should also have access to a reliable maintenance service that can provide assistance with breakdowns and other roadside events as well as a telematics solution that can help route them and monitor their driving habits.”

One of the best things a fleet manager can do to increase driver productivity is to mitigate the way the vehicle itself inconveniences drivers. 

“Whenever possible, try to minimize the activities the drivers/workers need to handle. Think in terms of what you might be able to do to maximize driver and vehicle uptime. For example, is it possible to schedule maintenance service for off-peak days/times? To take that a step further, are there pickup/deliver options or mobile service providers that can eliminate the need for drivers to take their vehicle to the service facility, allowing them to focus on core job functions instead,” said Powell of ARI.

The equipment you include and install on your trucks and vans will make a significant impact on more efficient operations.

“Upfitting a work truck or van with equipment like racks, bins, shelves, drawers, ladder storage, ramps, and other items with the help of expert truck upfit engineers helps the driver get the job done more efficiently and safely,” said Niese of Mike Albert.

5. Institute Effective Processes

Fleet operators should be as proactive as possible to reduce the administrative burden for their drivers. 

“One example is licensing and inspection requirements. If you’re able to communicate the various requirements well in advance of the expiration or deadline, you’ll be able to stay on schedule and avoid potential disruptions or increased downtime a driver/vehicle may incur as a result of delayed paperwork,” said Powell of ARI.

6. Inform Your Drivers

Information is power, and properly informed drivers make better decisions.

“Drivers can increase productivity through access to information that allows them to take action quickly. This includes guidance on how to handle vehicle maintenance, what to do in the event of an accident, and utilizing their fuel program if applicable,” said Thurman of Enterprise Fleet Management.

7. Consider a Telematics Solution

Today’s telematics solutions are far more than “dots on a map” and can be customized for any level of a fleet operation’s needs, from basic tracking to full behavior analysis. 

“Monitoring vehicle and driver behavior with GPS tracking and other systems can help ensure drivers are driving safely and complying with company guidelines, work schedules, and designated routes,” said Niese of Mike Albert.

The use of route optimization solutions can also help. 

“A routing solution can help map out stops to create the most efficient route, reduce driving time, fuel costs, and vehicle wear and tear,” said Ahmad of Element Fleet Management.

8. Keep Your FMC In Check

Training issues can result from a lack of involvement with your fleet management company. 

“Ensure FMC involvement at the onset of a relationship in terms of properly training administrative and driver teams on the various products and programs that come with managing their vehicles. Poor training can also result from the lack of knowledge in managing their fleet from the fleet manager’s perspective when a company is not using a fleet management company. The same can be said for administrative issues and poor preparation,” said Green of Union Leasing.

9. Try Incentives 

Incentives, from a simple verbal or written recognition to a small gift card or other options, can help motivate drivers to improve their performance continually. 

“Consider using incentives to recognize productive drivers who achieve set metrics and goals to help encourage drivers to use all the resources at their disposal (including the fleet manager) to optimize their time and be as productive as possible,” said Swanberg of Element Fleet Management. 

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