While surveying commercial fleet managers about their buying inclinations for the 2015 model-year, I included an additional question asking fleet managers to identify the greatest challenge facing their fleet operations. Recognizing that we were surveying a broad cross-section of corporate America, I was not surprised to receive a list of numerous challenges; however, two challenges stood out head-and-shoulders above all others — driver safety and the cost of fuel.

In the survey responses, many fleet managers wondered aloud as to what else they can do to reduce fuel spend and improve driver safety? Are they doing enough?

Two Hot-Button Issues

Driver safety is a hot button issue for almost every fleet. The accident rates for corporate fleets average around 20%, with some industries, such as pharmaceuticals, being even higher. Driver distraction is the cause for 25-30% of all fleet-related preventable accidents, which makes it a constant concern for fleet managers and management alike.

The types of vehicles offered today to fleet drivers are the safest in the history of the automotive industry, but it is all for naught if the driver is distracted. But, new onboard safety technology comes with associated incremental costs. One issue that worries fleet managers is the added onboard vehicle technology, which they feel may contribute to driver distraction.

The next greatest challenge reported by fleet managers is how to offset the rising cost of fuel and the difficulty to properly budget for fuel price volatility. With fuel costs surpassing depreciation as fleet’s largest expense, it remains a challenge to mitigate these costs with limited resources while not increasing total cost of ownership (TCO). The challenge is not only managing fuel costs, but also forecasting them for future budgets, which is difficult to do with price volatility.

Managing the fleet’s fuel cost and reducing its global carbon footprint is high on the list of goals for many fleet managers. For many fleets, they have downsized from six- to four-cylinder engines. Some have reevaluated the business need of the fleet and moved from a fleet dominated by mid-size SUVs to more fuel-efficient smaller crossovers and sedans.

With the help of fuel card providers and fleet management companies, fleets are able to closely monitor fuel consumption and spend. Exception reports are used as a teaching tool to train drivers for the proper use of the fuel card and to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Again, fleet managers ask themselves: Is there more that can be done?

Not Mutually Exclusive Goals

Driver safety and the reduction of fuel consumption are not mutually exclusive goals. There are many similarities between fuel-efficient driving techniques and safe driving techniques. In fact, there’s a direct correlation between safe driving and fuel efficiency. It’s been proven: the safer the driver, the higher the miles per gallon.

Most company drivers average 20,000 miles per year and driver behavior is a major influence in both the probability of a preventable accident and fuel consumption. How employees drive a company vehicle determines how safe they will be on the road and their fuel efficiency. Driver behavior can increase (or decrease) fuel economy and decrease (or increase) emissions. In fact, up to 30% of a vehicle’s fuel efficiency is impacted by driver behavior.

For instance, changing driver behavior using a safe driving program can result in a 5% to 30% reduction in annual fuel consumption and help reduce preventable accidents. The net result of making employees safer drivers is an uptick in fuel efficiency.

To illustrate, consider that the lowest level of fuel efficiency occurs during aggressive driving. Speeding, rapid acceleration, and hard braking can lower fuel economy by 33%in highway driving and 5% in urban driving.

Time studies show that fast starts and weaving in and out of traffic don’t save much time, wastes fuel, and more quickly wears out components, such as brakes and tires. A key principle of safe driving is that, by limiting acceleration and fast braking, a driver can increase fuel economy and minimize the potential of a preventable accident. Avoiding jackrabbit starts, unnecessary changes in speed, and using cruise control during highway driving all improves fuel economy.

Even small increases in mpg can yield substantial savings when extrapolated across the entire fleet.

Driving economically requires the driver to be more aware of his or her driving actions and surroundings. For example, scanning ahead allows you to see a red light well in advance and you come off the accelerator pedal sooner. This reduces fuel use, saves wear on the brakes, and decreases the risk of being struck from behind, because you are coming to a gradual stop versus an abrupt stop. By paying attention to the task of driving, the driver is not only safer, but is also saving fuel and reducing emissions.

The biggest obstacle to fuel efficiency and fleet safety initiatives is often company drivers themselves. One difficulty cited by responding fleet managers is the challenge in getting drivers to buy into fuel-efficiency initiatives and appreciate the potential savings. Safe driving techniques teach drivers to avoid distractions and focus on driving.

These driving habits, likewise, contribute to reduced fuel consumption and emissions. A safe driving program allows a company to leverage constrained resources to simultaneously increase the fuel efficiency of the fleet and reduce its liability exposure by lowering the incidence of preventable accidents.

Sounds like a win-win for all concerned.

Let me know what you think.

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet

About the author
Mike Antich

Mike Antich

Former Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Global Fleet of Hal in 2022. He also won the Industry Icon Award, presented jointly by the IARA and NAAA industry associations.

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