Fuel Economy? – Keep Rolling

Aug. 6, 2015
Note to all truckers out there — I feel your pain!

Last week I had meetings in Minneapolis and decided with good summer weather in the forecast I would drive from Indiana through Chicago and up to the Twin Cities.  Driving allows me to be among all those tractor trailers that I work on, and being on the freeway for about 10 hours for this journey, I knew I would certainly get a chance to do just that.  I would see the fuel economy features’ designs and percent usage of the many technologies we study, understand speed and idling practices at truck stops, etc.

But I learned something I didn’t expect and it really shocked me; that the biggest key to fuel economy / freight efficiency is to keep moving.  A seasoned fleet executive once told me the single biggest way to get good fuel mileage was to “get moving and keep that driver’s door closed.” He was pointing to the fact that planning for fewer stops is a real benefit.  What I learned from this “short” trip was how frustrated congestion and accident backups can be an enormous burden to freight efficiency.

First of all, my schedule had me driving through Chicago on Friday afternoon — not much to do about that, but it took me nearly twice the time, 7 hours rather than 4 to make the first leg of my journey.  But what was even more frustrating was the second half of the trip — travelling the beautiful Wisconsin countryside.  Well, I did get to see it because on Saturday I experienced 2-4 mile backups three times that were caused by accidents.  Heavy summer traffic and typical driver behavior combined to cause huge delays.  Frustrating!  And the hit to productivity:  For the trucking industry, goods not delivered on time, drivers making much less money for the day, etc. and likely missed barbecues, decreased lake time, etc. for vacationers. 

As I was sitting there, one thought came to mind. What affect would having collision avoidance technology on our vehicles have on these Saturday afternoon events?  Would one, two or maybe all three of those accidents not have happened?  Was some of the Friday Chicago congestion caused by accidents?  Would these technologies help smooth out the traffic and make it even more efficient as traffic is flowing?   I think it absolutely would.  What other technologies and practices can we develop and exploit?

This was just a few days for me. I can’t imagine what it must be like to drive a truck everyday through all of this.  Makes me think about all the ways we can help keep those trucks rolling!

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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