Fuel Efficiency and the Driver Shortage

Nov. 21, 2014

Go to any trucking industry event and you are bound to hear about the driver shortage. There’s no escaping the fact that a lack of drivers is one of the top concerns of fleet owners and managers.

According to the American Trucking Associations, we are short about 35,000 drivers today, and that number could grow to 240,000 by 2020.

Fleets are trying all sorts of things to attract drivers including signing bonuses, incentive pay plans and routing that gets them home on a regular basis. But I wonder how many of them have considered the impact fuel efficiency technologies could have on the driver recruiting and retention problem?

Let’s start with the most obvious — automated transmissions. While our initial research shows that switching to automated manual transmissions yields a 1 to 3 percent fuel economy improvement, fleets who’ve switched to them told us that drivers love them. In fact, at a recent Trucking Efficiency Workshop in Indianapolis, fleet attendees said going forward they are spec’ing 100% automated transmissions. Automated transmissions open up the driver pool to a broader group of people, many of whom have never driven a manual shift transmission and are intimidated at the thought of doing so. But automated transmissions also help with keeping drivers because they take away some of the physical demands of driving. One fleet we know of says that its drivers who also unload and deliver products, reported being less fatigued at the end of the work day when assigned to trucks with automated transmissions.

Another good place to get more out of your fuel efficiency technology investment is idle reduction. Investing in idle-reduction technology keeps you in compliance with idling law, but also earns you points from drivers who want the comforts of home when they’re away from home. Drivers appreciate the fact that they can get a good night’s rest because the cab is properly heated or cooled. Some idle-reduction technology also provides AC power for things like laptops, refrigerators, and other creature comforts. The best drivers have their choice of which fleet to work for, making their work environment as comfortable as possible will get you to the top of the list while also improving your fuel efficiency. It’s good for your drivers and good for your bottom line.

In a future commentary, I’ll have some thoughts on fuel efficiency technologies that drivers don’t particularly want and how best to help them with the change.  But for now, the next time you’re evaluating a fuel efficiency technology remember to factor in any driver-related benefit the technology has. Not only will you save fuel, but also your driver shortage could disappear.

About the Author

Michael Roeth | Executive Director

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

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