Commentary: Driver Training Shouldn’t End

<p><strong>Rolf Lockwood</strong></p>

Driver training is a subject dear to my editorial heart, but I fear we don’t do it well enough. For one thing, the focus of training is almost always on making sure truck pilots don’t “go agricultural” too often, or infinitely worse, whack the aged librarian’s Toyota.

Safety is obviously paramount, but there’s more to it.

Think fuel economy.

The PIT Group in Quebec, Canada, recently released a driver-training effectiveness study exploring the true value of driver monitoring and coaching to address bad habits and reinforce efficient techniques. PIT is a research and engineering outfit focused on improving truck spec’ing, maintenance, and operations practices. It has both supplier and fleet members, many of them in the U.S., and it often works with NACFE, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. It operates a full-bore test track north of Montreal.

PIT’s study suggests that training to promote driver fuel efficiency and safety is only effective if it includes refresher courses to reinforce good practices and address weaknesses.

“While vehicle technology designed to improve fuel economy continues to advance, driver training is the element that has the largest impact on fuel consumption,” says Yves Provencher, director, market and business development, at PIT Group. “Our studies show that various ways to train drivers, including classroom, in-cab, and simulator training, all have their advantages.

“However, the lessons and techniques they teach don’t last without monitoring behaviors,” he continued. “Providing refresher training and in-vehicle coaching technologies that address bad habits and reinforce effective skills is what’s needed to maintain and improve fuel-efficient and safe performance.”

In one study of long-haul operations, PIT compared 47 control and 38 test drivers before and after simulator training that focused on things such as road and engine speed, acceleration, and more. Baselines were established over two months before the 38 test drivers were trained. Afterwards, evaluations were done at one, three, six, and nine months.

The largest impacts on fuel consumption? Cruise control, proper acceleration, and maintaining the correct engine and road speed. With monitoring and communication, the data show that a driver operating a truck an average of 156,000 miles per year could save 3,170 gallons of fuel, PIT said.

Another test illustrated the virtues of automated manual transmissions. A group of 35 regional-haul drivers were monitored for nine months, including 22 operating a manual transmission and 13 an AMT.

Drivers with manual transmissions would shift in the most fuel-efficient range (1000 to 1400 rpm) 55% of the time, while AMT drivers were in the most efficient range 78% of the time. Average engine speed for manual drivers was 1316 rpm versus 1240 rpm for drivers with AMTs. The overall result was a 5% fuel savings in favor of automated manuals. We kinda knew that.

“What these and other studies tell us is that training is only effective if it is reinforced with new ideas and structured to include regular reminders,” Provencher said. “Many companies make the mistake of providing the same training year after year without focusing on weaknesses or adding new ideas to make the lessons more interesting and effective.

“In the end, the type of training really doesn’t matter as much as the monitoring that takes place afterward.”

And that is a strong vote in favor of data analysis — a topic for another day.

 

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