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Driving for efficiency

July 1, 2009
“Increasing the efficiency of vehicles already in our fleets here and now is imperative.” –Dan Steere, president and CEO, GreenRoad I received an interesting opinion piece from Dan Steere the other day in relation to my post on the need to keep ...

Increasing the efficiency of vehicles already in our fleets here and now is imperative.” –Dan Steere, president and CEO, GreenRoad

I received an interesting opinion piece from Dan Steere the other day in relation to my post on the need to keep funding future research and development efforts to improve commercial vehicle fuel efficiency. Steere – president and CEO of GreenRoad, a company that provides driver training services – is a big believer that much more can be done now, with the trucks currently on the road, to improve fuel efficiency.

Steere (at right) also thinks improving miles per gallon (mpg) doesn’t necessarily require major changes to equipment either, for HOW a truck is driven over the course of the day/week/month can make a big difference in terms of fuel economy.

Of course, GreenRoad has a vested interest in boosting the importance of driver training services – that’s how they make money. But the point Steere makes below about the impact of driver training of fuel efficiency is a good one – and one that can be applied to all manner of fleets, not just over-the-road truckers.

Mr. Steere, the floor is yours:

“As Sean stressed in his June 29 blog post, fuel efficiency is a major concern for everyone in the commercial trucking industry. Fortunately the industry is not alone. The Obama administration and Capitol Hill are taking action. In May, President Obama announced a fuel efficiency policy requiring new passenger vehicles and light trucks to average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. Similarly, Congress is reviewing the Surface Transportation Assistance Act proposed by Congressmen James Oberstar (D-MN) and John Mica (R-FL). If it passes, it will invest $450 billion to meet several goals: reducing carbon emissions, road congestion and crashes, as well as funding mass transit and highway construction.

These are, however, long-term fixes. New vehicle mandates will take years to replace the 250+ million passenger vehicles on our roads. And encouraging mass transit will take some cars off the road, but not soon enough to address the traffic congestion depleting your gas tank.

Leave the long-term to Washington. It’s time to focus on what we can do today, cost effectively. The annual fuel spend in the U.S. exceeds $350 billion [according to the U.S. Department of Transportation]. Hybrids and bio-diesel alternatives are available and can generate some relief, but replacing commercial fleets with these vehicles isn’t always practical or cost-efficient. Increasing the efficiency of vehicles already in our fleets here and now is imperative.

It’s well documented that safe driving can lower gas mileage and that safe driving is as critical in determining day-to-day fuel efficiency as engine type and mpg rating. It’s also no surprise that drivers prone to quick starts and stops and long idling times – not to mention speeding and other types of aggressive or inefficient driving – use more gas. Those drivers are also more likely to be involved in a crash than those who exhibit safer, more even driving behavior. The human and cost implications of vehicle crashes are staggering, but avoidable.

[For a whitepaper from GreenRoad that goes into more detail on this subject – ‘Is Safe Driving More Economical? Driver Safety and Fuel Consumption’ – please click here]

Fuel efficiency and driving safety can be more than a hope for the trucking industry. There are many products and services available today to help drivers improve their driving behavior and operate existing vehicles more efficiently. For instance, new and automated driver coaching services, such as GreenRoad’s, have been shown to yield sustained improvement in fuel consumption and cut vehicle crashes by 50 percent. The result is typically a payback in two to three months, not several years. With more efficient driving, the trucking industry could save over $10 billion per year.

The federal government’s efforts at improving fuel efficiency and surface transportation are positive steps toward lowering our nation’s carbon output, fuel usage and traffic congestion. But there are additional, more immediate steps the government and each of us can take. For example, the Government Services Administration is using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles for the Federal fleet.

Why not require the Federal fleet, whose vehicles number in excess of 500,000, to implement a comprehensive initiative to improve driving behavior? With a return on investment of 90 days, this would have a net positive impact on the federal budget. This approach is far cheaper than replacing fleets with hybrids and far faster than waiting years for new mpg standards. Moreover, this is an extraordinary opportunity for Washington to demonstrate leadership to the state and local fleets, numbering 1.4 million vehicles. And the opportunity is even greater for the 20+ million commercial vehicles on America’s roads today.

We have all we need to make an impact today – the political will, the economic need and the innovative technology. Together we can support positive change: the trucking industry needs to continue focusing on current fuel usage and driving safety; and we need to influence Washington to lead by example. Not only can we can generate billions in savings, while reducing emissions and our dependence on foreign oil, but we can save a few thousand lives while we’re at it.”

You may not agree with everything GreenRoad’s Steere says above, but I’ll tell you one thing: his words provide a vital reminder that good skills behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle count for a lot more in terms of fuel efficient and safe operation than we typically think.

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