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New driver technology could transform fleet management

Vehicle technology is evolving at a rapid rate, sparking a number of changes in the world of fleet management and the way commercial drivers conduct their jobs.

Researchers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and aftermarket suppliers have all played key roles in driving innovation through initiatives such as the ecoDriver Project.

This EU-funded project was established to achieve a 20% reduction of CO2 emissions and fuel consumption in road transport by encouraging the adoption of green driving behaviour.

Initial results suggest there is strong progress towards that target. Studies on the technological systems, developed as a result of the project, showed they could help drivers achieve a reduction of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of up to six per cent. In addition, the systems were found to have a strong positive impact on speed, as well as acceleration and deceleration times, which could potentially lead to less severe road traffic accidents.

Webfleet is joined in the ecoDriver Project consortium by other industry leaders, including BMW, Fiat and Daimler. And the resulting technology is wide-ranging, covering everything from passenger cars to heavy goods vehicles, including in-built vehicle systems and aftermarket devices.

Real-life results from TomTom OptiDrive 360, the first product to be made available for drivers as a direct result of the research, show an even greater impact. UK Gas distribution company SGN expects to save in the region of £1million over the course of a year after improving average fuel consumption by 11 per cent.

Technology can help relieve burden on drivers

Such technology could prove invaluable for businesses but the benefits to drivers are also significant.

It couldn’t come at a better time for the commercial driver, whose role has become more challenging than ever before – a development that can be attributed to a number of factors.

Companies are often required to meet strict key performance indicators (KPIs) and service level agreements (SLAs) as part of the demand for high levels of customer service, putting drivers under greater pressure to complete jobs on time. This has only been exacerbated by a shortage of skilled drivers, meaning companies have to rely upon a smaller pool of potential employees.

Meanwhile, an increased focus on road safety standards has led commercial driving standards to be more closely scrutinised. A recent study conducted by TNS on behalf of Webfleet found people in Britain, the Netherlands and Germany rank both van and truck drivers in the bottom four when it comes to who are the safest drivers on the road.

Given this scenario, there is an onus on businesses to assist their drivers. The ecoDriver Project is working hard to offer crucial support by tapping into the expertise of universities, transport research institutes, industry suppliers and thought leaders to develop forward-thinking systems that aim to tackle key issues head-on.

The future of driving, now

Although much of the focus in the mainstream press has been on autonomous vehicles, this vision still appears to be several years away from fruition.

But the systems developed as a result of the ecoDriver Project are available now and aim to empower the driver perform better, rather than taking responsibility away from them altogether. These systems help to coach drivers through the situations that arise during their working day, allowing them to improve by making decisions based on accurate information.

For example, advice about safe and efficient driving can be offered via the screen of an in-cab device before the driver has even put the key in the ignition. This kind of guidance will help to build on knowledge developed through training and reinforce key messages.

During the trip, drivers can be provided with alerts to notify them when they are guilty of specific incidences of poor driving practice, such as speeding, idling, and harsh steering or braking. This allows the driver to learn on the spot and make adjustments where necessary.

But now technology can even predict the road ahead, telling drivers when to take their foot off the accelerator on approach to sliproads, junctions and roundabouts in order to help them save fuel and adopt a safer, more anticipatory style of driving. Post-trip reports will even show what percentage of total driving time could have been spent with foot off the accelerator, providing an opportunity for drivers to make significant fuel savings if they use the guidance to improve.

Big challenges ahead

Such technology will play a vital role in helping drivers to cope with the modern pressures of their jobs and in enabling businesses to hit a number of vital targets.

Crucially, these systems allow managers and drivers to work together to achieve better results. The driver gets direct feedback to their in-cab driver terminals, empowering them to make changes instantly, while management receives detailed performance reports, allowing them to analyse, benchmark and train.

If all companies subscribe to this way of thinking, the effect on society could be potentially huge. The Paris Agreement outlined at last year’s UN Climate Change Conference is aiming to reduce emissions and keep global warming below two degrees Celsius and business can make a substantial contribution to this.

Currently, transport is responsible for a quarter of EU greenhouse gas emissions and it is estimated that six out of ten work accidents resulting in death are road crashes. By targeting driver behaviour, companies can contribute to an improvement on both fronts, while simultaneously boosting the bottom line.

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