What I'm learning on the road, Part I

April 16, 2018
2,000 miles into a 5,000 mile trip across America has taught some early lessons on fuel consumption and more.

Some of you might remember a report my wife and I made on the use of trailer aerodynamics while we drove across the Midwest in 2015.  I documented it here. Well, we are at it again. Letty and are I are about one-third the way through a six-week 5,000-mile cross-country trip in a three-quarter ton pickup truck pulling a 40 ft. 5th wheel camper.  So far it’s been a pretty good trip.

We've come across some challenges, most of them weather related. In Kansas and again in Utah and Nevada, we hit some pretty significant winds and I was reminded of some of the things the drivers from Run on Less told me about when they got caught in the winds surrounding hurricanes Harvey and Irma. High winds really make it more difficult to drive and to feel like you are in control.

Mostly I have been just taking note of what’s happening on the nation’s highways. In order to lower my fuel consumption, I have been driving at about 64 mph. One thing I’ve noticed is that trucks are going faster than they used to. I am only occasionally passing a truck and that is usually one from one of the big fleets. But, probably 95% of the time trucks are passing me, which means they are going faster than my 64 mph.

NACFE’s done some work on speed and fuel economy. Check out our 2017 Annual Fleet Fuel Study. We learned there that some fleets are raising the speed limits on their trucks by modifying the programmable engine controls on their trucks. Increases were in the two to three mph range. Some are doing it in response to increased speed limits on the highway and others are doing it to gain operational efficiency. Speed is an interesting factor and we are just underway with a Confidence Report on the impact of speed on fuel efficiency and freight efficiency.

During all this driving I have been reminded that I need to very aware of the speed of the vehicles around me in order to fit into the flow of traffic. I do not want to be the guy who messes up the flow and worse causes an accident of any kind.

I also have found that by driving at 64 mph I am less tired and as a result, I can drive farther during the day because staying in the right lane has proven to be significantly less stressful. I realize, of course, that truck drivers do not have the option of driving more hours than they are legally allowed under Hours of Service regulations. Still it is something to understand when it comes to driver comfort and keeping drivers happy.

It has been an interesting 2,000-plus miles. I’ll keep on driving and keep on learning about what’s going on out there and while I know my “little” camper-house does not compare to a 53 ft. semi, this trip has reminded me of the many challenges drivers face on the road from Mother Nature, other drivers and even deadlines and schedules.

Stay tuned.

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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