Don’t let these five vexing conditions keep you awake at night

As a fleet manager, your mind is a flurry of cost-cutting concerns, human resources nightmares, and mandatory hoop-jumping. But does it have to be this way? Is there no nighttime respite for weary fleet managers?

The answer, of course, is a resounding, yes! While stress inducers may not look the same from one fleet manager to the next, there are likely five primary issues at the black heart of your restless nights. If these five nagging fleet management issues are causing you to lose sleep, take peace, dear fleet manager – we’re here to help you reclaim those zzz’s.

Issue 1: Hiring and Retaining Drivers

European road and freight needs are on the rise. According to the British International Freight Association, from 2016 to 2017, European road freight transport increased by 4.5%, and that number was forecast to rise to 5.4% in 2018. As that trendline rises, driver numbers in Europe are declining and have been for two decades now. These opposing trends result in a double whammy for fleet managers who are juggling freight with one hand while hiring and retaining drivers with the other. In Germany, where there is a deficit of around 45,000 employees in the transport industry, regulators are trying to stay ahead of the ball by lowering the driving age for commercial drivers while German fleet managers attempt to fill transport staff gaps with an influx of Middle Eastern refugees. While these initiatives are slowing the bleeding, neither is perfect, and both are not without controversy.

Although there is likely no single solution to the driver dilemma fleet managers in Europe are facing, the International Road Transport Union has articulated a “framework for action.” It touts improvements in driver wages and working conditions as well as campaigns for improved professional status that they hope will be led by trade bodies, professional associations, government agencies, and larger logistics providers. Perhaps one key investment guiding improvements in driver retention is that of innovation. Technological innovations in workforce and driver management, payroll, scheduling, and time tracking, combined with innovative on-the-road practices may help alleviate the pressure of human resource management in the transport industry.

Issue 2: Driver Safety

Transport drivers are some of the most capable, experienced drivers on the road, but the industry poses unique hazards. High speeds and long days driving vehicles that weigh up to 20 times as much as passenger cars can make common driving mishaps fatal. According to the nonprofit organization Transport & Environment, 4,000 people die every year in truck collisions in Europe. And while this number is declining – Europe has seen a near 40% drop in the number of transport-related fatalities since 2007 – it is still a very serious issue keeping fleet managers up at night.

While initiatives such as driver training and mandated rest breaks (more about this later) are helping fleets improve their safety numbers, most accidents involving Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs), according to the European Road Safety Observatory, are caused by information failure. Improvements in dispatch and communications tools may be one way fleet managers can provide necessary information to their drivers in real-time, improving their overall “view” of the road and keeping transport drivers and everyday motorists safer.

Issue 3: Fleet Fueling Costs

Fleet Financials states that fuel is often the second largest variable expense for fleet managers (asset depreciation being the largest), and according to Transport & Environment, it costs an estimated €40,000 per year in diesel fuel to power a single European tractor trailer. Larger fleets of 25 trucks or more easily touch the €1,000,000 mark annually. This factor alone would be enough to give any fleet manager nightmares. The good news is there are several measures fleet managers can take to reduce fueling expenses.

Routine maintenance is a habit fleet managers can adopt not only to prevent breakdowns and engine trouble but also to improve vehicle efficiency. While savings due to preventive maintenance may be incremental, it becomes significant when applied across several trucks or over several years (or both).

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Another efficiency improvement is the reduction of idle time. In an ideal world, fuel is used only when a truck is literally, physically progressing toward its destination. But in reality, some idle time is necessary. Traffic, stop lights, and construction zones are just a few conditions that contribute to a disruption in forward progress. While fleet managers can’t avoid these situations altogether, they can help drivers improve idle time and avoid unnecessary fuel expenditures.

Many times, the reduction of idle time is simply a matter of educating drivers, but fleet managers who are serious about improving their fleet’s ratio of driving time to idle time rely on optimized route planning and refined dispatch practices. According to one study by Deloitte, optimized routes can save 5% on fuel costs. Even this small percentage can provide significant returns at the end of the year, especially when realized across a full fleet of trucks. One simple way to improve route optimization and increase dispatch efficiency is to utilize telematics services. Beyond informing dispatchers on best routes, a robust telematics system can also help fleet managers monitor driver behavior in real-time to ensure that efficient practices are followed behind the wheel and at the gas pedal.

Issue 4: Compliance and Regulations

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), a fifth of all driving incidents occur due to driver fatigue, and about 40% of sleep-related incidents involve commercial vehicles. Drive time is a concern that extends well beyond the EU. Regulations on driving tired are at the forefront of vehicle safety agency activity in the US, Canada, Mexico, and Australia. Beyond the hefty fines that come with a driver’s hour offense, there are also the obvious and weighty concerns of driver safety and the safety of other drivers on the road. New rules went into place in the EU in 2018, but the issue continues to be debated, and it’s likely that regulations will continue to evolve.

Considering the amount of available technologies designed to help manage drivers’ hours, there is hardly an excuse to forego such an important piece of the transport puzzle. New devices on the market go beyond the mere tracking of driver hours with robust, automated record management and even vehicle diagnostics, making logging tools indispensable to sound fleet management.

Issue 5: Fuel Theft

A 2017 report in Visual Capitalist estimates that every year, a total of $133 billion worth of fuel is stolen. In light of the already monumental cost of fleet fueling (see above), fuel inventory management is a practice fuel managers cannot afford to overlook. Fuel theft, or “shrink,” can be minimized through simple hardware and policy improvements. Developing intuitive fuel consumption policies helps fleet managers keep track of each liter of fuel and protects drivers if discrepancies arise. Because much fuel theft occurs at the site of the truck itself, installing anti-siphon sensors and devices can shut down shrink at the source. Surveillance cameras are another relatively inexpensive hardware investment that may also be effective in preventing theft.

A more comprehensive solution to fuel theft might include installing a fleet management system that connects all trucks to the dispatch hub and provides real-time information about vehicle locations, delivery time, and unauthorized detours. Educating users about the capability of an installed fleet management system may help to stop fuel theft before it ever starts.

Proactivity is Key

Don’t wait for these conditions to rear their disruptive heads in your operation. Be proactive in dealing with these costly fleet management issues. While there may be some investment required in implementing a solution, many costs are nominal, and some require only a little time and forethought.

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