The past decade has seen a significant focus on “eco-driving” as companies strive to reduce carbon emissions and cut fuel costs despite relentless increases in fuel prices.
These are certainly worthy aims, and there is no doubt companies are reaping benefits from implementing eco-driving training programmes.
Very often, though, such programmes are positioned as separate to driver risk management.
It turns out that this is a false choice: the evidence shows that training can address both the core element of driver risk – behaviour – and also improve fuel economy at the same time, thus maximising the benefits of a single intervention.
The key elements of behavioural risk in drivers, such as aggression, impatience, distraction and stress, are strongly associated with poor fuel efficiency.
This is because they affect the extent to which drivers brake hard and accelerate hard. Academic research studies have shown that acceleration and braking is directly related to both fuel economy and a driver’s behavioural traits.
For example, an aggressive driver is likely to drive at higher speeds, and closer to other vehicles than a driver who is low in aggression.
As the diagram below illustrates, their decision to drive at higher speeds means they are likely to accelerate more rapidly, and their narrow safety margins mean they are more likely to have to brake hard in response to speed changes by the vehicle in front.
This means that their average speed changes will be higher, and so will their fuel consumption. Using a targeted behavioural intervention to address their aggression on the road results in a smoother driving style and simultaneously improves fuel economy.
To illustrate the point further, let’s take another example: this time of a driver who is often distracted and fails to spot hazards in an effective and timely manner.
Using a behavioural intervention to enable them to overcome their tendency to be distracted allows them to observe hazards and plan ahead more efficiently, thus reducing the likelihood of emergency braking and swerving manoeuvres or the use of rapid acceleration in order to avoid a collision. This in turn has a positive impact on fuel efficiency.
The evidence strongly shows that driver behaviour is the core component in minimising driver risk (especially in developed countries where nearly all licensed drivers are competent in operating the vehicle). The variation in risk is linked to drivers’ choices in how they operate the vehicle, rather than a lack of capability. Those choices are driven by their behavioural tendencies, which in turn are founded in their beliefs, attitudes, experiences and self-image, and these choices have a significant impact on the extent to which their driving is “eco” compliant.