The witch report on eco-driving: Mick Jackson

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[asset_ref id=”906″]By the time you read this, it is very likely that your columnist has been branded a heretic and very possibly burned at the stake of “public” opinion. My crime – making a case for the mandatory inclusion of eco-driving in the periodic training element of Driver CPC. My plea? Guilty as charged.

The Department for Transport has just closed for submissions to its consultation on Increasing the Uptake of Eco-driving Training for Drivers of Large Goods Vehicles and Passenger Carrying Vehicles. In broad terms the DfT thinks that more needs to be done to improve driving skills in the sector for the benefit of both the environment and of individual vehicle operators.

DfT defines eco-driving as to include skills relating to aerodynamics, speeds, fuel efficiency and choice of gears, acceleration and braking, and anticipation of traffic and driving conditions. The consultation asks respondents to consider three possible options – no change in the present arrangements leaving individual operators to decide for themselves; increasing promotion of the benefits with enhanced targeting at specific types and sizes of operator; or mandatory inclusion of the techniques within the already compulsory Driver CPC arrangements (the preferred option).

The economic crisis has meant that vehicle operators of all sizes need to very carefully consider where best to invest limited training budgets. And the prospect of compulsory regulation
which places cost and operational burdens on stressed companies is rarely welcome. But, and not for the first time, here is a case of training constituting a very sound investment. Time and again our research here at Skills for Logistics shows us that those companies which spend on training are those that yield the best profits. And so it is with eco-driving.

With the price of fuel constituting up to 40 per cent of the operating costs of goods vehicles, it constantly surprises me that so many operators fail to take every opportunity to maximise their  driver efficiency and, in the process, reduce their overall fuel costs in a market where there are only likely to be higher prices, increasing duty levels, and more bad news in the future.

It is an old cliché that “the most expensive item on board any vehicle is the driver’s foot on the accelerator pedal”, the trouble with old clichés is that they are frequently true. But this is a  essage
which needs to gain acceptance not only by drivers but by their managers. Training initiatives need to highlight the bottom-line benefits rather than any legislative compulsion. OK, improved  cheduling, route planning, smart vehicle utilisation and other operating issues all play a role in both fuel efficiency and economic operations. But good driving skills must be paramount.

It seems to me that regularly honing these skills is a management no-brainer, even for smaller companies working on tight margins and very limited training budgets. In fact perhaps these are
the companies which would benefit most. Should we, as the consultation offers us, just go along as we are at present and rely on the good sense of managers and drivers to enhance ecodriving skills? Well, there is some evidence of improvement but I think that we should go further.

And while a well targeted campaign, explaining to the most likely beneficiaries the gains to be had from improved skills would achieve some progress, I think that there is a good case for compulsion.

A programme of annual ecodriving training must yield major benefits for both drivers and vehicle operators. It is inevitable that behaviour slips over time and an annual refresher would address the issue and allow it to be embedded in the management of driver behaviour and the employees’ continued professional development.

The Driver CPC would seem to be the most appropriate way of enforcing operators to undertake eco-driving training. In addition to enhancing the image of transport as a professional sector, with due consideration to the essential green agenda, the industry would quickly see bottom-line benefits through less wear and tear on vehicles, improved fuel consumption, productivity  ains, reduced downtime and all of the competitive benefits coming from an up-skilled workforce.

Eco-driving means going green, benefiting the environment and cutting costs. If the same or more is being done at a lower cost then our industry is more productive. Naturally, the consultation focuses on driver behaviour but just as important is the management of drivers and indeed wider management of the supply chain. If we can develop the skills necessary to achieve and maintain collaboration within and between supply chains then the contribution to a low carbon economy will really start to produce benefits.

Not so much a case of can we afford to do it. More like can we afford not to.

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