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Driver training can save money – and cut emissions

While electric vehicles are making strong inroads to the business car market, they’re not necessarily the best choice for high-mileage drivers. Combine that with limited supply, plus high prices and leasing rates compared with conventionally powered cars, and EVs are not a one-size-fits-all solution to cutting emissions.

But there is a way to reduce a fleet’s carbon footprint – and running costs – without installing a single charging point, or sourcing new vehicles.

Eco-driver training is nothing new – fleets have long sought to reduce running costs by training employees to drive more efficiently. But at a time when there has never been more pressure on fleets to be sustainable and socially responsible, eco-driving is a relatively simple, low-cost way to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

 

CUT-PRICE TRAINING

The Energy Saving Trust subsidises the cost of eco-driving training through a network of approved training companies and individual instructors. The trainers must be DVSA-registered, and have attended a ‘train the trainers’ course run by the EST. There’s a list of training companies on the EST website www.energysavingtrust.org.uk.

Prices vary, but around £40 should pay for a half-day of training, a cost which should be comfortably recouped in lower fuel costs thereafter.

All the trainers provide coaching on how to drive petrol and diesel vehicles. Some also offer coaching in how to coax the maximum range and efficiency from hybrids, EVs and plug-in hybrids.

IAM RoadSmart is one of the training companies with national coverage. “Drivers learn how to drive using much smoother inputs, especially where accelerating and braking are concerned, and to optimise their use of gears to enable the engine to work at peak efficiency as much as possible,” says Tony Greenidge, IAM RoadSmart’s business development director.

“The eco-driving courses teach business drivers to avoid bad habits as well as adopt good ones”

“All of these techniques are underpinned by enhanced observation: planning for junctions, changing traffic conditions and other hazards enables drivers to maintain momentum, rather than to rely on braking and accelerating.”

The courses teach drivers to avoid bad habits as well as to adopt good ones. “Driving too close to the vehicle in front is something we teach drivers to avoid, because it leads to harsher braking, and also impairs their vision of hazards up ahead. ‘Hurrying up to wait’, or accelerating up to queueing traffic and then sitting at a standstill, is another highly inefficient habit that many drivers have. Our course teaches them to manage their speed and braking over a longer distance, working with the traffic flow to minimise the time spent at a standstill,” says Greenidge.

The latter technique is also useful to anyone with an electric vehicle looking to maximise range on a single charge. “EV drivers also benefit greatly from developing this skill, as it promotes more effective use of regenerative braking, helping to keep their batteries topped up,” adds Greenidge.

 

QUANTIFYING THE BENEFITS

That’s all well and good, but just how much do drivers improve? The EST puts the improvement at 15% on the day of training. Understandably, drivers are on their best behaviour with an instructor in the passenger seat, but in the longer term
EST still banks on drivers making a 6% improvement overall.

For a fleet of 25 drivers covering 10,000 miles each and currently averaging 40mpg, that could mean an annual saving of over £2000.

However, some studies have shown that fuel-efficiency can continue to improve after training has concluded. Researchers at Cranfield University looked at the effect of eco-driver training in a simulator on the fuel economy figures achieved by bus drivers. Immediately after training, economy improved by 11.6%. Six months later the economy improvement stood at 16.9%.

But how can businesses make sure that every pound spent on training leads to long-term change, not just a temporary blip?

“The best way for managers to help employees to drive more safely and efficiently is to take some of the pressure off them, by setting realistic workloads and timetables,” says Greenidge.

Company Car Today - Green Company Car - The Green Business Driver - The most important eco switch sits between the drivers ears

The most important eco switch sits between the drivers ears

“It is also worth regularly reminding drivers of the benefits of eco-driving, by sharing driving tips with them or offering e-learning refresher courses. Another way of maintaining their awareness is by emphasising other factors that affect fuel efficiency when carrying out routine vehicle checks, such as correct tyre pressures, and removing unnecessary loads from their vehicles. Increasingly, fleet managers have access to fuel card and telematics data, which may allow them to recommend an on-road refresher course for individual drivers that may be demonstrating a lapse in their skills.”

As well as reducing fuel costs, eco-driving techniques can make drivers safer, reducing down-time while vehicles are repaired and keeping a lid on insurance bills. After putting its younger drivers through a training programme with a strong eco-driving element, British Gas saw a 30% reduction in collision rates, according to EST.

Clearly, driver training is not a substitute for choosing greener cars, and switching to zero-emission vehicles when they can practically fulfil the business’s needs. But eco-driver training represents an efficiency win for fleets of all sizes.

 

David Motton