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The intelligent approach to cutting fuel costs

Over the last decade, thousands of Canadian truck drivers have taken a Fleetsmart SmartDriver classroom session in one form or another, resulting in great savings in fuel economy and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the last decade, thousands of Canadian truck drivers have taken a Fleetsmart SmartDriver classroom session in one form or another, resulting in great savings in fuel economy and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Now with the launch of its new edition E-learning edition of SmartDriver for Highway Trucking,  Natural Resources Canada hopes to reach many more drivers via the Information Highway. The course is now available free of charge and is delivered in an 80-minute program through a series of interactive modules. Primarily designed for experienced drivers who may not be getting optimum fuel mileage, the on-line course can also be dovetailed with existing training programs for drivers at any skill level.

By some estimates, at least half of long distance truckers carry a laptop or some other form of Internet-enabled device. It follows that the E-learning modules will have wider access to a much larger group of drivers, particularly long-haul company drivers and owner-operators who may only get into the company’s terminal on an infrequent basis. “We wanted to move into web-based learning that a driver could access from anywhere in North America,” says Fleetsmart’s senior manager Lynda Harvey.

Participants merely go to the Fleetsmart website,, and click on the top right corner as a new member. After registering, drivers are guided through the sessions which can be completed at their leisure. A unique bookmarking system allows drivers to start and stop the modules at any time, and brings them back to the last completed section upon subsequent log ins. 

The E-learning course is packed with a set of visual presentations, videos and short quizzes, and covers the fundamentals of fuel-efficient driving. The comprehensive course looks at all aspects of the craft, from mechanical fitness of the vehicle, to aerodynamic and developing technologies, to fuel-saving  driving techniques including progressive shifting and defensive driving. Following a knowledge-testing quiz at the end of the session, participants can print up a certificate that they can add to their resume.

As a working Class A driver with over 30 years experience, I’ve taken several courses over the years, including SmartDriver for Highway and City trucking. So I’m familiar with most of these driving techniques. Regardless, I found the on-line course to be fresh and interesting. The video segments are well-produced and engaging. Moreover the sessions are relayed in “trucker speak”, and don’t talk down to participants by using technical jargon.

I completed the course during three easy sittings. While at home I started the modules while doing housework, and after getting distracted by the laundry or a telephone call, I just scrolled back to where I had left off and started that page again. While on the road I found the program to be a welcome diversion during my hours of involuntary downtime.

Prior to its launch, the program was “tested” by over 1,000 drivers from both the US and Canada . NRCan’s Fleetsmart developed the E-learning course in tandem with the US EPA’s SmartWay initiative.  After a roll out on Sept. 12, the material available on both sides of the border from both agencies will be consistent.

Chrysler Group’s transportation division originally supplied six drivers last fall as test pilots for the E-learning sessions. They liked the program so much that they increased that number to 600 drivers by Christmas. Significant fuel savings were achieved by participating drivers, from 5.95 to 6.42 mpg (US gallons) and as well as tangible reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Chrysler now sees the SmartDriver for Highway Trucking web-based workshop as a key component to its driver training curriculum and currently has put 800 drivers through the program.

Another carrier that posted good results, both from the classroom and online programs was Kriska Transportation of Prescott, Ont. They enrolled a test group of 40 drivers in a study, separating them up into four groups of ten. Ten drivers received the E-learning program only, while the next ten had the E-learning session along with a road trial. Another ten received the SmartDriver classroom training along with a test drive, while ten drivers received no instruction at all.

To demonstrate the versatility of the E-learning program, five out of ten of the first group, those getting the E-learning alone, had no experience with the Internet or computers. “We had to nudge them a bit,” says Robert Duncan, driver training coordinator for Kriska. “The guys that didn’t know computers at all went right through and seemed to enjoy it. They liked the fact they could do it at their own pace and no one was looking over their shoulder”

Although the test sample of drivers monitored was small (40), some good results were obtained by all the groups including the 10 drivers who received no training at all. Duncan attributes this to “word of mouth among the drivers.” Kriska supplies all of their 400 drivers with a monthly print-out that charts their fuel mileage, idling time, hard braking, high rpm, low rpm, and overspeed events, so the employees are already aware of the emphasis the company puts on these variables. Duncan suspects that the workplace “buzz” that some drivers were taking a special course may have had a positive effect on the rest of the workforce.

According to the Kriska’s statistics compiled by Fleetsmart, the average idling time for untrained drivers was 13.12% and the average idling time for trained drivers was 5.88%. Furthermore, the average fuel consumption of untrained drivers was 37.89 L/100km and the average fuel consumption of trained drivers was 35.75 L/100km., approximately a 6% improvement.

Kriska also wanted to know if there was a difference between classroom trained drivers and those who received the E-learning. In this sample, classroom trained drivers performed slightly better but not enough to be statistically significant.

Kriska offers its employees a yearly refresher course and now includes the Smartdriver program as part of its one-day curriculum. New hires are also given Smartdriver training as part of their orientation. “We have seen a difference and our fleet mileage has improved,” says Duncan. “We didn’t think we’d get such good feed back, but it seems the guys are watching their equipment and mileage. If their mileage starts slipping they’re down at the shop trying to figure out what’s wrong.”

Duncan thinks that including the road training session after the classroom or is advantageous. “There are things they don’t seem to teach in truck driving school,” says Duncan. “Like getting off the throttle before you come to an off-ramp, or using 70% of your pedal rather than 100% all the time.”

NRCan’s Fleetsmart division also saw a need for an on-road supplement to accompany its SmartDriver classroom and E-learning products. A similar program had been developed for Transit operators and achieved terrific results. “The difference was really amazing, from 5-8% improvement,” says Fleetsmart’s Harvey. “I wanted a trucking version of this, and one that would include a virtual version as well, using a simulator.”

Harvey enlisted Andy Roberts, president of the Mountain Transport Institute to develop the on-road practicum, which should be available on the Fleetsmart website this fall. The practicum is a down-loadable reference guide for driver trainers which includes a workbook that can be used to calculate driver performance. Tips are also provided on how to choose a driving course that is characteristic of the kind of work that the company drivers are doing.

The on-road practicum developed by Roberts suggests two road tests be taken on the same day with the SmartDriver training sandwiched between them. The mor
ning road test is a “cold” trial without instruction to set the driver’s base line performance. After the SmartDriver training—delivered either in-classroom or on-line—drivers follow exactly the same course but this time are coached by an instructor to utilize some of those newly-learned techniques, including momentum management, idling elimination, progressive shifting, and speed reduction.

According to Roberts, fuel efficiency can vary greatly among any group of drivers. “Six drivers using identical equipment over an identical course can show a 14-20% difference in fuel mileage between the best one and the worstm,” says Roberts. “We present the preliminary results to them without naming the drivers and this gets their attention.” Typically, he says, drivers completing the course and the two ride-along sessions will show a 5% improvement or better.

Roberts also thinks that using a simulator rather than live on-road sessions has advantages. “The good thing about the simulator is that you can do it at any time and it doesn’t take as long because you don’t have to drive to the course,” he says. “And you can exactly mimic the same conditions for all drivers.”

Lastly Roberts suggests that training drivers in fuel-saving techniques is not enough without instituting some kind of on-going monitoring program. “You’ve got to keep it up after the training,” he says. “Without some kind of feedback drivers don’t know how they’re doing. Even better is some kind of rewards program where drivers receive of a bonus for reaching certain benchmarks.”

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1 Comment » for The intelligent approach to cutting fuel costs
  1. Angelo Diplacido says:

    My Volvo D13 allows me to monitor my fuel mileage in “real time”. It is an constant training session and allows me to take advantage and recognize when there is an opportunity for savings because I always know where that “sweet spot” is. I’ve never found such a useful training tool than this.The human brain is interfaced with the trucks ECM and the repeated monitoring by the drivers can only lead to instinctual and habitual behaviour. According to the in dash fuel management software , I can only take advantage of the empty miles, grades , and maybe a good tail wind. Similar to aircraft , it will always take a measured amount of fuel to do a measured amount of work on any given course. There are considerably bigger numbers to be had in proper maintenance and modern onboard technology. The fatal flaw in this course is that it is dependant on the ” human motivational factor” and may deliver a 5% improved fuel economy with a variance of 14-20% .
    My last trip to “La Belle Province” averaged 9 mpg (Loaded). Running empty back from Sault St Marie, with a west wind at my back averaged 10 mpg. I can’t fudge these numbers. The sad part is that this on board monitoring system has been available for years at a very reasonable cost. Its also available for your personal vehicle. Knowing exactly where and when the “Sweet Spot exists” gives a driver complete and accurate information and it’s highly motivating to see the results and understand the physics. Every truck should be so equipped.

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