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American Trucker Magazine

Driving the bottom line

The difference in performance between the most and least efficient drivers could be as high as 35%, according to a recent study.

Brent Nussbaum has advice for fleets that think they are guaranteed to reach higher fuel economy by simply throwing money at aerodynamic devices and maintaining the equipment.

“You can’t just expect the truck to do it for the driver,” said Nussbaum, CEO of Nussbaum Transportation. “The driver needs to buy in and understand the training.”

Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE), shares a similar belief.

“Drivers will impact miles per gallon, no matter how much technology is on the truck,” Roeth said.

In fact, the difference in performance between the most and least efficient drivers could be as high as 35%, according to the Technology & Maintenance Council of American Trucking Associations.

Maintaining a steady pace of travel and leaving a sizable following distance minimizes the need for hard and fast acceleration and braking, which could result in up to a 20% difference in miles per gallon.

Higher speeds also translate into lower mpg. The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) found that when compared with traveling at 75 mph, driving at 55 mph saved 28% more fuel, and driving at 65 mph saved 15%. ATRI noted that while lower speeds increase transit time, maintaining a 65 mph pace increases travel times just 15.5%, compared with 75 mph.

Drivers who limit idling when stopped are also more likely to have a higher mpg average. Heavy-duty truck engines use up to one gallon of diesel per hour while idling. At 70% idle, overall fuel economy is reduced by almost about one full mpg.

Using a battery-electric auxiliary power unit is one way to be more fuel efficient while making sure drivers have access to air conditioning or heating when needed.

Drivers also need to be alert enough to spot worn or under-inflated tires, clogged filters, and dirt buildup that could hurt fuel efficiency and lead to unplanned downtime. Even efforts to consolidate stops for food, fuel, showers, maintenance, and personal needs further maximize every gallon.

Training methods

From the time new drivers join Nussbaum Transportation, the CEO said they are trained to think about operating a vehicle so smoothly that they would not even spill a full cup of water in the cab. Nussbaum encourages the use of cruise control on highway stretches whenever possible and to continually anticipate traffic movements.

Younger or less-experienced drivers usually achieve higher fuel economy when paired with an experienced driver, compared with driving solo, Nussbaum said. Having another professional along for the ride can help ensure good driving habits are followed.

The fleet uses video monitoring from SmartDrive, and Nussbaum called the system “paramount for success.” It provides accurate, real-time performance data that uncover the strengths and weaknesses of each driver.

The company uses scorecards to encourage better fuel economy. Drivers exceeding mpg goals get points, which later are turned into monetary awards.

Lloyd Palum, chief technology officer of Vnomics Corp., said “having a [technology] coach alongside helps drivers to stay in the mindset” of reaching higher fuel economy.

Vnomics’ True Fuel in-cab system provides onboard fuel optimization technology through real-time driver coaching and fuel-efficiency insights. It only considers factors that a driver can control such as engine speed, speeding and idle time while automatically normalizing out factors such as payload weight, route, weather and vehicle configuration.  The behaviors are rolled into a composite GPA-like assessment of the driver’s real-world fuel efficiency performance.

Vnomics said all active drivers using True Fuel have traveled nearly 5 billion miles and saved over 84 million gallons of fuel through in-cab coaching. The company estimates the combined fuel savings equal more than $250 million.

For 2018, it singled out four “Top Fuel Champs,” including Larry Gardner of Valley Farms Dairy LLC, who drove 57,913 miles at 99.98% efficiency; and Johney M. Pool of Saia, who drove 96,965 miles at 99.93% efficiency.

“Based on the average population, these drivers save their fleets 10% in fuel expense,” said Ed

McCarthy, vice president of operations and customer success at Vnomics.

Developing careers

During the Truckload Carriers Association’s annual conference in March, Ray Haight outlined factors that impact how drivers view their jobs, and the correlation that has with overall performance.
Haight, a truck driver-turned-company-owner-turned consultant, said by providing current drivers opportunities for career development, tuition reimbursement, or a future path to non-driving jobs, they are more likely to remain with their current fleet. That also means they are unlikely to stay committed to reaching fuel economy goals.

U.S. Xpress Enterprises is one truckload carrier offering more opportunities for its drivers than ever before. Earlier this year, the company debuted a driver development program and cut the ribbon on a redesigned development center in Tunnel Hill, GA.

The program uses a technology-driven approach and a modern simulator rather than lecture-style classes. This complements the “full ride” program that offers a college scholarship for drivers and their families to Ashford University.

“We believe our professional driver development program will ensure long-term success for our drivers,” said Amanda Thompson, senior vice president of human resources.

“In addition to helping our company recruit and retain more drivers, this program offers our drivers and their families the life-changing opportunity to attend college at a time when it is becoming increasingly expensive and unattainable to many,” said Eric Fuller, CEO of U.S. Xpress.

The “Full Ride” program pays all costs directly to the university, including tuition, books and course materials. Each driver may have a total of two family members enrolled in school at one time.  

Schneider sees gains by providing drivers tablets

Truckload carrier Schneider National earlier this year began providing Samsung Galaxy tablet devices to drivers as part of an effort to make things more efficient, both in and out of the truck.

“We’ve listened and heard from drivers on how tablets are difference makers in making their lives easier,” said Mark Rourke, chief operating officer at Wisconsin-based Schneider. “Putting technology in the palm of a driver’s hand is one of many ways we’re enhancing their experience.”

The tablets are assigned to individual drivers rather than the truck and provide a variety of apps and other key work and personal information.

The devices have been well received by drivers, thus improving their overall performance for the company, which ranks No. 6 on the Fleet Owner 2019 For-Hire 500 listing.

 “I like that I don’t have to write everything down—like pickup numbers and customer info. It’s all right there for me, so I don’t have to go to a truck stop to do that paperwork,” said driver Shawn Calloway. “I’ll admit, I was hesitant at first, but it’s been a great portable tool that lets me streamline my work so I can get back on the road.”

The company said it began testing tablets with a small group of drivers back in 2015. They were quickly found to improve the driver experience, mainly through reduced paperwork, compared with the existing in-cab system.

Today, Schneider drivers can use their tablets to do job-related tasks such as track work, get customer information, complete training, get weather and road conditions, and obtain turn-by-turn directions.

“It’s like an electronic Swiss Army knife,” said Rourke.

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