WOULDN’T it be great to get company car drivers to drive more safely, and save money on fuel at the same time?
It’s a double whammy: save on fuel costs; save on accident damage.
Overall what drivers need to do is create more time and more space
So how can you turn this into reality?The amazing (and frustrating!) thing is that drivers don’t really have to change much of what they do to get a substantial saving in fuel consumption. They just need to change a few small things in the way they go about their usual everyday driving for business.
Making drivers part of the solution – not the problem
Saving fuel is the new ‘buzz phrase’ in driver training, as companies start to realise that spending a little on training can show a great return in fuel savings and insurance premiums.
But drivers have to be part of the revolution and take on board safer and more economical ways to drive that will improve their contribution to the company and to themselves.
And while this list isn’t exhaustive, it’s a good place to start, and there’s nothing here that can’t be achieved by any business that applies itself to the challenge.
1. Think economy – drivers need to be less aggressive in the way they gain and lose speed – be smoother with the car’s controls and take more time to change gear and, taken over a period of time, to use a higher gear than at present.
Acceleration uses fuel and the more aggressively you accelerate, the more fuel is used. It’s easy to understand in principle but important to remember when actually driving. Allow more time to accelerate up to any given speed.
And it needn’t cost time! So often drivers accelerate hard only to have to brake hard seconds later because of some obstruction they haven’t seen or haven’t considered. It’s not because they’re in a legitimate hurry, it’s because this is their driving style. That brings us to:
2. Braking: the fuel saving equation also includes braking. Losing speed by braking means that all the gas you used to accelerate is wasted. So its easy to save fuel by ensuring you gain speed gradually and ease off the throttle when you see something ahead rather than just brake automatically. Use less braking than usual – by releasing the throttle earlier, over a longer period of time, so the need for braking is reduced.
And when braking is actually required (because your observation and planning have recognised that) then brake progressively and smoothly.
3. Opening up your separation / following distances will allow you to use throttle sense much more often, rather than constantly braking every time you need to lose speed. Don’t be a ‘comfort braker’ and touch the brakes every time something changes ahead – you need to predict when you need to lose speed so it’s calculated and planned.
4. Pay attention to your gear changes. Neither over-rev the engine by changing up too late nor allow the engine to labour by changing down too late. Keep engine revs lower when driving away from cold and allow the engine time to warm up.
Use ‘block changes’ when you can, say when driving down a slight gradient – by missing out a gear. For example change from 1st to 3rd, or from 2nd to 4th. This is even more relevant now that cars increasingly have six gears.
Changing down through the gears is out-dated and unnecessary – use your ‘brakes to slow and gears to go’! Use the advanced driving rule of ‘One Brake and One Gear’ for each hazard.
5. Reduce throttle when driving down hill. Often drivers unwittingly increase speed going down hills. Instead, use less throttle and allow the car’s own momentum to allow it to maintain speed and lessen the need to brake too.
6. Reduce weight; take things you don’t need out of the car as the less weight you’re carrying the less fuel you’ll use.
7. Check tyre pressures regularly as under-inflated tyres use more fuel. Always check tyre pressures when the tyres are cold.
8. Minimise the use of air-conditioning and keep windows closed to reduce drag.
9. Observation and planning – this is really important. Spotting hazards earlier creates more time to deal with them so you’ll be both safer and more economical in the way you drive. (As well as much more relaxing for your passengers!). Start by looking much further ahead and keep your eyes moving, in effect like a radar scanning for potential and actual road hazards.
I call it ‘advanced observation and advanced planning’ and just doing this will ensure you drive more safely, be more in control of any potential or actual outcomes, and save fuel at the same time. Overall what drivers need to do is create ‘more time and more space’.
Remember that a crash only happens when a driver runs out of time or space!
10. Increase separation distances – use less braking – develop throttle sense – gain and lose speed progressively – keep to posted speed limits as nobody expects you to break road traffic laws when driving on business.
Editor’s note: Paul Ripley is the managing director of www.driverriskdynamics.com, an online training programme providing cost-effective company car driver road risk assessments and remedial training modules.
For more on Paul Ripley, an expert in small fleet safety, read Paul Ripley joins Business Car Manager