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A defensive driver is a fuel-efficient driver

When the private fleet of Hill’s Pet Nutrition – predominantly comprised of straight trucks that average 15 drops a day – implemented a defensive driving program, it couldn’t have expected to save a million dollars a...


When the private fleet of Hill’s Pet Nutrition – predominantly comprised of straight trucks that average 15 drops a day – implemented a defensive driving program, it couldn’t have expected to save a million dollars a year in fuel as a result.

It took the 220-truck fleet six years to save its first million, and now the company saves about that much every single year.

Bill Perry, safety and compliance manager, customer fulfillment with Hill’s, shared his success story at the Green Truck Summit in Indianapolis in early March. The company, which leases its trucks from Idealease, began spec’ing more fuel-efficient vehicles in 2006. They adopted automated transmissions and installed electronic on-board recorders. The fleet was divided up by vehicle type and location and drivers worked as groups to improve their fuel economy.

They were trained to drive defensively, using the Smith System for defensive driving. Fuel economy baselines were established and operators were given the opportunity to earn a 2%, 3% or 5% quarterly bonus depending on whether they met or exceeded expectations. Those who didn’t got no bonus.

In the fourth quarter of 2013, the company’s drivers averaged 8.6569 mpg – yes, Hills tracks fuel economy out to the fourth decimal. Its fleet-wide fuel economy before implementing the program was 7.1 mpg. Its top operator, running Florida, achieved 11.232 mpg. Its top 25 drivers are all achieving greater than 9.75 mpg.

Perry said it’s possible to get an immediate one-tenth of a mpg improvement from drivers, just out of modifying driver behaviour. His team rides along with drivers every quarter to ensure they’re implementing the skills taught through the Smith System. Each of its driver trainers are certified Smith System instructors.

Hills spent $4.5 million on fuel last year, but that’s a million less than it was spending before the defensive driving training was provided and the fuel economy incentives were offered.

“With a little bit of training, a little bit of encouragement and a little bit of technology, you’re going to see numbers very similar to that without a whole lot of effort,” he said. “Get your folks involved and let it be part of their program. Dangle the carrot out there and you’ll see some sort of difference in your organization.”

We don’t always think of fuel-efficient driving and defensive driving as being one and the same. But both types of training involve similar ideals. Don’t follow too closely. Easy on the throttle and the brake. Look far down the road and anticipate stops. Use the vehicle’s momentum to reduce braking.

All these things lead to a safer driver but also a more fuel-efficient driver. If you’re having a hard time justifying the cost of defensive driving training for your professional drivers, consider the Hills experience and the payback they achieved. They’re proof that a defensive driver is not only a safer driver, but also a more fuel-efficient driver.


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