Everyone shudders when the price of oil goes up and none more so than firms whose businesses rely on road transport. But, as Andrew Gaved finds out, a driving course offers the potential to slash fuel bills
A GOVERNMENT-backed scheme promises to save a fortune in diesel costs with the significant bonus of making drivers safer and less prone to tiredness. The scheme will cut carbon dioxide emissions, pleasing those customers who have an eye on environmental matters. And it doesn't cost anything, no matter how large a company you are, to send your drivers on the scheme as long as you send them with a truck.
The icing on the cake is the scheme will eke some benefit from that scourge of quarriers everywhere - the aggies tax.
The Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving (SAFED) scheme sounds like a win-win for anyone involved in transporting aggregates.
With a package like this you would expect hauliers and fleet owners the length and breadth of the country to be desperate to sign up. Not so. Not yet anyway.
Th is could be related to lack of publicity, lack of time or simply apathy among the quarrying community. Whatever the reason, the SAFED scheme, developed specifically for those who haul aggregates and funded by the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund, has had a slow take-up.
Those far-sighted types who have sent drivers on the scheme - a cross-section of the industry including dedicated quarry drivers, hauliers and construction contractors, from ownerdrivers up to large firms - have found fuel savings averaging 15 per cent. To fulfil government criteria, the results of the course all have to be recorded via fuel monitor ing devices, so there is verifiable evidence to back up the claims.
The good news is there is still plenty of funding available. The bad news is the scheme as it stands will stop by March 2007.
Kevin Taylor, managing director of Liquid Solutions, which promotes the scheme on behalf of the government, adm its there has been a slow start, but he believes the climbing price of fuel will focus the industry's mind.
'Fuel is getting to £1 a litre, but maybe it will have to get to £2 before people will start getting the message. Unlike the previous freight versions of the scheme, there is no ceiling on the size of company that can do it for free, within reason, ' Mr Taylor says.
'We have trainers and fuel economy advisors ready to go, we just need the drivers. We are talking to the likes of Tarmac to raise awareness of the benefits among their drivers, but what we want to be able to say is, 'Don't listen to us, listen to the guys in the trucks.'' According to Mr Taylor the core point of the scheme is to save fuel by reducing gear changes. This d r ivers do by 'block changing' or skipping unnecessary gears and it seems to have had a disproportionately beneficial effect on the stop-start, heavy-load world of aggregate hauling.
'The average savings so far have been much higher than the previous HGV scheme, ' he says. 'Fuel efficiency is on average 15 per cent improved, as opposed to 10 per cent on the other scheme, and gear changes have been reduced by 45 per cent compared with 38 per cent.'
One aggregates haulier in the south-west recently recorded a massive 80 per cent drop in the number of gear changes he made, Mr Taylor says. 'I don't know what fatigue he must have suffered previously with all the gear changes, but I am sure he must feel better now. This backs up the message that we are trying to send, which is that not only should your business be more profitable at the end of the course, but that the drivers will enjoy their job more.'
There has been a corresponding reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, which will play well for the increasingly environmentally conscious client base. Owner-driver Frank Deaville (see box) would have saved a whopping 920 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in a year, based on his test results.
Martyn Whiley, transport manager for Brian Hill Haulage, which has 21 tippers in its f leet, notes another bonus. 'We have seen immediate benefits in reduced maintenance as some of our guys were knocking clutches out left, right and centre.'
The benefits of the fuel efficiency are quite impressive when translated into hard cash, especially for bigger haulage companies that are dealing with large amounts of fuel.
A good example is Loughborough haulier AHT Logistics, which has a f leet of nine vehicles and an annual fuel bill around £280,000 and rising.
'I couldn't refuse to try the course, since a 10 per cent fuel reduction would save £30,000 a year, ' says owner Andy Hulse.
Mr Hulse sent two drivers on the course, who promptly came back with not just 10 per cent in reduced fuel but 14 per cent, equating to a potential £40,000 saving across the fleet.
The benefits for the drivers themselves are reduced fatigue and usually fewer accidents, although Mr Taylor says this can only really be measu red at the end of the scheme.
'Hopefully we will be able to prove the safety benef its by means of hard figures in terms of reduced broken mirror incidents etc, ' he says.
The consensus among the drivers is while the SAFED techniques are different to a lot of the traditional theory, they do result in less tiredness, largely through cutting down on all the gearshifting. AHT Logistics' drivers recorded a reduction in gear changes of 29 per cent.
AHT driver Martin Carr agrees: 'It is a totally different driving style. I have learnt techniques I would never have thought would work, but I've been proved wrong.'
The key, of course, is to reproduce the test results once the drivers are back in the hurly-burly of the quarry. Mr Taylor agrees: 'It is no good unless you have the backing of the whole business. You need to foster a fuel-saving culture.'
SAFED Aggregates Scheme
THE SCHEME is open to any existing driver who spends at least a quarter of his work transporting any aggregate for which the Aggregates Levy has been paid or any recycled aggregate. Clearly firms serving the quarry industry will be within scope, but many of those working in construction and demolition, will also be eligible.
The instructor comes to the driver's place of work to run the one-day course, using the driver's own vehicle where possible.
A typical day comprises a 45 minute initial evaluation run, followed by feedback and instruction on techniques for improving safety and fuel efficient driving, then a second run, bringing the new techniques into play.
The instructors all come from the aggregates sector and the course is free, with funding coming from the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund. The SAFED certificate can be used to contribute towards the Certificate of Professional Competence which the EU is implementing for all heavy truck drivers.
As well as sending drivers on the courses, companies can apply to have a fuel efficiency review, where a SAFED advisor looks at all the elements of an operation and recommends how further savings can be made.
More info on SAFED's Freephone line on: 0800 169 3434.
An owner-operator thousands of pounds better off
DERBYSHIRE owner-operator Frank Deaville with 33 years tipper driving experience was initially a bit sceptical about taking a day off work to do the SAFED course.
But by the end of the day he had achieved a reduction in fuel use of 11 per cent, along with a significant reduction in gear changes.
With an annual fuel bill averaging around £17,500, or a third of his outgoings, applying the fuel eff icient driving techniques should leave him almost £2,000 better off.