Building a Better Driver

What’s in it for me?

There are few stronger motivators than a good return on an investment. Building driver buy-in to your fuel economy program requires enough incentive to overcome what the driver perceives they’ll be giving up, along with sufficient disincentive to maintain certain bad behaviors. It’s not all about money. While financial reward is certainly a strong motivator, it’s not the only effective one.

Without getting into a lot of psychobabble, one can look to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to gain an understanding of motivation. The German Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before individuals will desire the secondary or higher-level needs.

In a driver’s world, cutting truck speeds from 65 to 60 mph, for example, could be perceived as a significant threat to their earning capacity. It will save fuel, but if schedules are tight or there are penalties for service failures, requiring the driver to make the same run over a longer timeframe could create a lot of stress.

From the driver’s point of view, a late arrival could mean a missed appointment or delays unloading. That could compromise the reload, which could translate into additional time away from home — with no additional compensation.

Maslow would say that because the drivers’ primary needs (security of income and home time) are not met, they would be less likely to embrace your request for better fuel mileage.

The same applies to demands to limit idling. If the truck isn’t equipped with an auxiliary climate-control system, the discomfort of spending a summer night in an overheated truck cab will probably supersede your desire to have the truck shut off.

If you expect to change behavior simply by demanding change, you will likely fail. On the other hand, if the requests are accompanied by assurances and incentives, and something can be built into the program to instill improved self-worth, fulfillment and pride, then you’re practically assured of success.

It takes two to tango, and of course, drivers’ responses to such situations can be quite different.

Choice Reefer Systems of Stirling, ON recently began monitoring driver performance electronically, and added potential bonuses of about $300 per month for drivers who achieve the company’s stated goals. They are modest, indeed, and many drivers have happily accepted the challenges — and the bonuses.

But not all, says V.P. of Operation Dianne Wilson. “We have a few drivers who see the monitoring as intrusive and unnecessary, and they aren’t really going along with what we hope to accomplish. There’s no penalties at present, but they aren’t seeing bonuses, either.”

Keith Tuttle, president of Motor Carrier Service Inc., (MCS) a 100-truck regional fleet based in Northwood, Ohio, says his focus is on hiring and retaining only the best drivers, and offering rewards and bonuses that reflect the driver’s commitment to excellence.

MCS was recognized in 2011 and 2012 as the Best Fleet To Drive For (company driver). It’s not surprising then, that MCS, with a turnover rate of 31 percent, can afford to turn away 39 out of 40 applicants. Tuttle has the luxury of being able to choose his people carefully. He looks for certain qualities in drivers that make them a cut above the rest and provides generous rewards to those that rise to the challenge.

Tuttle says his company philosophy is that of constant improvement, and while most of his drivers respond well to the challenge, others don’t. Fuel mileage reports, as well as fleet CSA scores, are posted in the common areas of the terminal facility for everyone to see. Some see it as a personal challenge to place in the top 10 every month, but Tuttle admits some of his drivers would rather not be exposed as mediocre.

“We’ve burned a few bridges that way,” he admits. “We had some people who are more comfortable working at a company where they are just steering wheel holders. That’s fine. We’d never stop pushing them to do better, but we’ll let them go when they are ready to go.”

MCS tracks driver fuel consumption over a three-month period, and drivers are grouped based on the model and year of truck they drive. The fleet runs Freightliner and Volvo trucks from model year ’06 ’07, ’11 and ’12. To illustrate the need to group by year, the fleet average for its ’06 trucks is 6.531 mpg, while certain MY 2011 trucks are doing 7.69 mpg.

Clearly, MCS sets the bar pretty high. Tuttle’s drivers’ primary needs are being met, leaving them receptive to further growth and development. It’s easier to establish incentive programs with a receptive workforce, and MCS certainly makes it worth the drivers’ effort to participate.

Incentive Programs

Trying to get driver buy-in to a fuel economy program isn’t always easy, especially if you’re asking them to give up something with no return — idling for example, if you don’t provide an APU for climate control.

And drivers are always leery of the potential inequities in incentive programs, such as weight, weather, terrain, engine generation, etc. They know there are performance issues involved, and if the program seems stacked against them, they’ll have no part of it.

Josh Kaburick, CEO of Earl L. Henderson Trucking Co., speaking during a recent Truckload Carriers Association webinar on fuel economy recommended grouping trucks with similar specs to keep the comparisons fair and transparent.

“We call the program Overall Per­formance. Fuel economy has to be within fleet parameters as well as on-time service and good safety records. We set new drivers up with mentors to get them off on the proper footing, and existing drivers who are slipping also get a mentor to bring them back around again,” he says. “Then we post all the driver fuel economy info in the drivers’ lounge for everyone to see and compare. Our bonus system offers a pretty substantial payout, but they have to earn it, and the big thing there is fuel economy.”

American mega-carrier C.R. England has a rather creative reward program that works like a lottery. Drivers are awarded entry tickets to a draw for a Harley Davidson motorcycle based on performance in three categories. If drivers meet certain mpg number on idle time parameters, they are awarded tickets to the draw. They can earn up to three tickets in each of three categories by bettering their performance.

“All drivers and independent contractors have a chance at the draw,” says Allen Nielsen, director of fuel at C.R. England – Global Transportation. “A really good driver could go into the quarterly lottery with as many as nine chances to win, but another driver with just one ticket is still very much in the game. We wanted to make it as fair as possible and everyone who performs well has a stake in the game.”

The draw winner for Q1 2012 was Devery Hope of Sacramento, California, with a 7.48 MPG average for the quarter and 6.5-percent idle time. He was well above 0.50 mpg greater than his peers in both his fleet and the National Division.

“The toughest part of keeping the idling down was leaving the engine off in places like El Paso,” Hope says. “It gets darned hot there even in the winter.”

Hope graduated from C.R. England’s driver training program in 2010, and had less than two years’ driving experience at the time of his win.

Driver Training

Hope was taught to drive for fuel efficiency at the C.R. England training school in Salt Lake City.

“They really emphasized progressive shifting at school, so I really don’t know any other way of doing it,” he says. “My instructor explained why we need to keep the rpm low each time we shift gears, so that’s how I do it.”

Andy Roberts, president of the Moun­tain Transport Institute — one of Canada’s best truck driving schools — located in Castlegar, BC, says the driver training curriculum at some schools is cut short to keep costs down, robbing the students of the opportunity to learn valuable skills like progressive shifting and traffic management.

It’s no surprise, Roberts notes, that the most fuel-efficient drivers are also the easiest on the equipment and the best with the customers. “Drivers like that aren’t born,” he points out, “they are taught and developed and nurtured.”

Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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