Driver training is key to improved safety and fuel economy

by Al Goodhall

Twenty per cent. That’s the impact on fuel efficiency that can be attributed to a driver’s actions behind the wheel.

The thing is, we don’t invest 20% of our training time and training dollars teaching drivers to be fuel-efficient. This is short-sighted, because the benefits of training drivers to be more fuel-efficient goes beyond simple cost savings.

A search of Fuel-efficient driving techniques on the internet will bring you a host of results with five techniques being predominant. I found this list on the Government of Canada, Ministry of Natural Resources website (

• Accelerate gently
• Maintain a steady speed
• Anticipate traffic
• Avoid high speeds
• Coast to decelerate

Any professional driver will recognize that this list of techniques is directly related to another list of techniques, the Smith System of Defensive Driving. Ninety five per cent. That is the percentage of collisions attributable to driver error.
• Aim high in steering
• Get the big picture
• Keep your eyes moving
• Make sure they see you
• Leave yourself an out

A defensive driver is a safe driver is a fuel-efficient driver. So why don’t we focus more training time on this relationship? It doesn’t require any capital investment in additional equipment or technology. All it requires is the will to spend more time with the people that matter: drivers.

When we spend more time with drivers, we discover that professional drivers understand the techniques and possess the skills needed. Knowledge isn’t the issue.

The real challenge is getting drivers to buy in. Because fuel efficiency and road safety is far more about the right attitude behind the wheel than it is about skills training.

So what affects our attitude as drivers? I know my fellow truckers can list off dozens of hard issues that affect our mindset as we navigate our rigs down the road, but if I were to single out one factor that we all share and has the greatest impact on our attitude behind the wheel, it would be time.

Time comes in to play in every aspect of a driver’s day. Drivers are judged on how efficiently they make use of their time for pick-ups and deliveries. A driver’s time is governed by roadside enforcement and internal audits. Drivers can be penalized if they do not take the time to chart their time accurately throughout the day. Time is a source of pressure and anxiety for truckers. Time is something truckers never have enough of.

It is the time crunch we face behind the wheel every day and its resulting anxiety that fuels impatience. It’s that lack of patience that leads to speeding, following too closely, hard acceleration and braking, distracted driving (multi-tasking while driving), and aggressive driving to “make up” some time.

Road rage is a direct result of a driver’s lack of patience, which leads to anger and the resulting disregard of all the techniques that support road safety and fuel efficiency.

So you see the paradox. On one hand, drivers are expected to slow down and take the time to do the job right, but on the other hand drivers are expected to hurry up and be cost-effective. Messaging is mixed and inconsistent, depending on who is doing the talking. Enforcement, carriers, shippers, and receivers all have a different stake in the game. They all need to focus on the fact that their common denominator is the driver.

It makes me crazy when I read op-ed pieces about improving fuel efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving road safety, which only give professional drivers a cursory mention. Collisions are a result of driver error 95% of the time. A driver’s actions affect fuel consumption by 20%. Drivers should be the primary focus of industry training, but we are not. We need a fresh approach.

Is it that difficult to understand how important it is to invest in deep training for drivers?


Al Goodhall has been a professional longhaul driver since 1998. 

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