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Fuel-efficiency and safety closely linked

With the price of diesel pushing above $1.30 per litre in many areas of the country, there should be little surprise that fleets are placing an increasing emphasis on their fuel-efficiency.




With the price of diesel pushing above $1.30 per litre in many areas of the country, there should be little surprise that fleets are placing an increasing emphasis on their fuel-efficiency.

The fuel-saving strategies may even be more valuable than they first appear.

While reduced speeds, improved maintenance practices and better spec’ing decisions are able to reduce the number of trips to the fuel island, they can also have a direct impact on safety records.

Consider the impact of speed alone. A typical truck that travels at a maximum speed of 105 km/h rather than 110 km/h will save about 3,200 litres of fuel per year. And the heavy use of an accelerator certainly affects highway safety. Traffic collision statistics in B. C. have indicated that speed is a factor in almost 12% of all collisions.

Quite simply, higher speeds lead to shorter reaction times and increased stopping distances.

The cushion of space around the truck will make a difference of its own. By preserving an eightsecond following distance, drivers will be able to maintain the vehicle’s momentum rather than burning additional fuel in their repeated efforts to rebuild lost speed. In the process, they will retain enough room to react to changing conditions, and that is particularly important when you consider how a tractor-trailer that travels at highway speeds will need more than 600 feet to come to a complete stop.

Drivers may balk at the idea that they can maintain this distance in heavy traffic, but it’s important to remember that any lost space is quickly reclaimed.

A motorist who cuts into the all-important space in front of a truck will likely continue to weave in and out of traffic, giving back any of the room that they steal.

But the connection between fuel-efficiency and safety does not begin and end with the control of the throttle. The condition of equipment can also make a difference.

A 20 psi drop in tire air pressure, for example, could lead to a 2.5% drop in fuel-efficiency, according to Natural Resources Canada. In contrast, a poorly maintained tire could lead to a blow-out that strands a vehicle in the middle of nowhere, creates a road hazard or leads to a collision.

Even the selection of equipment can have an impact on fuel economy and safety alike. Companies that haul 40,000-lb loads through Saskatchewan are unlikely to require 550 hp and an 18-speed transmission. In addition to burning more fuel, the drivers of this equipment may be tempted to use the extra power at their disposal.

But it’s important to remember that under-spec’ing can create its own challenges. Those who want to haul heavy over-dimensional loads need to be wary of the speed differentials that can emerge with under-sized engines. The drivers of this under-powered equipment are even likely to drop gears and hold the accelerator to the floor to maintain their speeds.

The choice of specific components can make a difference as well. An automated transmission, for example, will ensure the truck travels in the most fuel-efficient gear while allowing users to concentrate on the road ahead. Cruise control can also help to save fuel, but it should only be used when a truck is travelling the open highway across flat terrain and in good weather. If the cruise suddenly decides to apply more throttle when the truck is travelling on a slick surface, the rear wheels could lose traction, creating a dangerous situation.

Perhaps one of the greatest tools for reducing the thirst for fuel will emerge when you download information from an engine’s Electronic Control Module. The data that identifies activities such as hard brake applications will offer a clear indication of a wasteful and dangerous driving habit. Even the details about extended idling time could help to address safety issues, since an unattended vehicle with a running engine is surely a target for thieves.

When these practices and tools are embraced, you can be confident that you will have an answer for today’s fuel-related challenges.

And you can be confident that you will become even safer in the process.

– This month’s expert is David Goruk. David joined Markel in 2003 at the Guelph training centre, and has been an advisor in the Safety and Training Services department since 2004. Prior to joining Markel, he had accumulated 18 years of experience in the trucking industry as a commercial driver and safety trainer, operating A-trains for one of North America’s largest LTL carriers. Send your questions, feedback and comments about this column to info@markel.ca. Markel Safety and Training Services, a division of Markel Insurance Company, offers specialized courses, seminars and consulting to fleet owners, safety managers, trainers and drivers.


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