Getting stranded in bad weather: how to advise drivers

Getting stuck in snow can be a real problem for fleet drivers. More than just inconvenient, having vehicles with key personnel or goods stuck for hours, overnight, or even for days, can have a significant impact on a business.

Ensuring that drivers are therefore prepared for any eventuality is important for every fleet. Passing on some vital tips could mean the difference between mobility and stasis, so we’ve collated some useful advice to pass on to drivers for when it snows.

  1. Be prepared

Drivers have a better chance of getting out of a bit of snowy bother if they already have some useful aids in the vehicle.

So they’ll need some tools to help them going, including a snow shovel, tow rope, cat litter or gravel to place under the wheels to improve traction or even a set of traction tracks.

Additionally, a set of snow chains or snow socks will also improve the chances of getting back on the move.

Warm clothes, gloves and hats and sturdy boots are also a must to help drivers keep warm while digging their car out. A torch – better still, a head torch – is essential. Handheld mechanically powered can also be useful as they require no batteries (making them better for the environment as well as more practical) and turn on simple by shaking them or pressing a handle.

And, just in case, drivers do get stranded, blankets, healthy food and a bottle of water as well as a mobile phone battery charger should also be onboard. The fuel tank should be topped up just in case drivers do get stuck and they have to run the engine to switch the heater on.

  1. Make an assessment

As soon as drivers come to a halt and they can’t move on, they need to calmly assess the situation and work out the best course of action.

A local radio station or weather app could offer some vital intelligence about conditions in the area, as could looking around to see if other drivers are in the same situation.

Being in a built-up area might mean help could be more forthcoming or give more options for shelter.

  1. Be seen

Drivers should put their hazard lights on as soon as they come to a standstill and, if they have a warning triangle, it should be placed on the road at least 45 metres (147 feet) behind the vehicle. They should also wear a hi-vis safety jacket so they can be seen on the road.

  1. Start digging

The first thing to do is clear snow away from around the car, with the tailpipe an important area to concentrate on, to avoid carbon monoxide fumes building up in the car.

Then shovel as much snow from around the wheels as possible, to make the area clear, and scatter the cat litter or gravel around the vehicle’s driven wheels.

  1. Socks or chains on

Fit the snow chains or socks to the wheels – with the driven wheels a priority – to give the vehicle as much chance of gaining some traction as possible.

  1. Start rockin’

Drivers should ensure that their wheels are straightened, then engage a low gear to try to move off (second gear is often a good choice).

Revs should be kept low enough so that wheels aren’t spinning and, if that isn’t working, try switching between forward and reverse gears to try and rock the car to gain some traction.

  1. Take shelter

If it’s not possible to get the vehicle moving, drivers should take shelter inside it, keeping warm with as many clothes on as possible and any blankets. If conditions are really bad, it’s easier for emergency services to find vehicle occupants if they stay put.

This is even better advice if a vehicle gets stuck away from centres of population. Drivers do not want to get stuck trekking through blizzards, not knowing exactly where they are.

The engine can also be switched on now and again for a blast of warm air from the heater.

  1. Be sociable

If there are other vehicles stuck in the same location, drivers should talk to each other, share resources and even take turns to switch engines (and, therefore, heaters) on to make the most of fuel.

  1. Stay calm

If it’s looking as if drivers might be stuck for some time, it’s imperative that they stay calm and wait for help to come. The situation is outside their control, so not getting stressed and not doing anything reckless is crucial.

 

Source: Fluid Thinking – Shell

5 tips for more efficient driving

We all like saving money, don’t we? Whether it’s looking for a lower price online or waiting for the sales to buy things, a bargain is a source of pleasure. But just as there are consumer tactics to save cash, so there are tricks of the fleet drivers’ trade to save on fuel bills. They’re not difficult, either. In fact they’re so simple, they can be boiled down to five simple practices.

1. Stay smooth

Cars don’t like sudden movements, so it’s safer and more efficient to do everything as smoothly as possible. Harsh acceleration sends the rev counter beyond the 2,000rpm efficiency sweet spot, so just gently squeeze that throttle.

The same goes for slowing down. The best thing is not brake at all – lift off the accelerator and use engine braking – but when you have to, do so gently, bringing the car slowly to a stop.

In short, stay smooth. And this is easier to do if you…

2. Create space

Creating space around your vehicle will increase your efficiency hugely.

The less space you have, the more you have to react to other vehicles, braking later and stopping more – simply because you don’t have time to plan your next manoeuvre.

Observation skills are key, so look as far ahead as possible and all around (using your mirrors), to maintain a safe gap between you and the cars around you. This will, in turn, give you have more time to plan. At the same time, it will ensure that you have space to the sides of your vehicle, giving you more options if you need an escape route.

3. Make time

Time, along with space, is another way of improving your efficiency. Make time for yourself in the vehicle by planning your journey as much as possible.

This means you won’t get impatient and make sudden manoeuvres and end up rushing to get a light and ending up waiting at the next one, alongside the car you were so desperate to overtake earlier (This is what’s known as a “Russian Waiter” – “rush an’ waiter”, geddit?)

Also, consider this. If you have deliveries to make, you wouldn’t expect to run from the vehicle to the door without spending a few minutes having a chat and being sociable with your customer/client. By comparison, that 30 seconds you may have to spend at a light is really insignificant.

4. Be organised

The saying “fail to prepare: prepare to fail” might be a cliché, but only because there’s more than a grain of truth in it.

To be a more efficient driver, it’s important to be organised about every aspect of your driving. So before even getting inside your vehicle, minimise any unforeseen problems with all the necessary checks. Remember the ‘FLOWERY’ acronym – fuel, lights, oil, water, electrics, rubber and yourself – to ensure everything is in full working order before setting off.

And make sure that you plan as much of your journey as possibleµ – the route and any alternatives; the timing of it; if you have a choice (avoiding any rush hour travel, if possible); and any stops you’ll need to make for fuel or comfort breaks.

5. And… relax

Stress is a big problem for many drivers, so do all you can to avoid it, as it causes you to make rash decisions that are usually inefficient.

Extra time and space, plus plenty of advance planning, should help alleviate much of the stress of driving. If you have time and space, you’re in a better position to anticipate the careless or reckless actions of other drivers, so you don’t get that spike of adrenaline that causes a ‘fight or flight’ reaction – the cause of decisions to accelerate or brake harshly, which reduce the efficiency of your vehicle.

And remember that other drivers aren’t doing things to annoy you – take a deep breath and don’t take their bad driving personally.

It is easier said than done, but with lots of practice, you can train yourself to be a calmer and more efficient driver.

And a more efficient driver is a money-saving driver. Even if it’s not your money, a reputation as an eco-driving guru will endear you to your bosses – and might even get you a raise. Which is more money for picking up those bargains.

Source: Fluid Thinking – Shell

Fuel fraud: bridging the gap between managers and drivers

Fleet managers are reporting that fuel fraud is a huge problem, but drivers don’t seem concerned. New research from Shell gets to the heart of the problem.

After the cost of the vehicles themselves, fuel is the biggest cost attached to running company fleets, and be they cars, vans or trucks, fuel fraud has the potential to cost huge sums of money. However, according to research from Shell, there are big discrepancies between how fleet managers and drivers view the issue.

Employers place a high degree of trust in employees when they give them vehicles and send them out into the world unsupervised. While there are many ways to control and manage the costs including smart choice of vehicle, driver training and other systems and technology, research recently published by Shell has lifted the lid on the worries about the scale and variety of fraud committed by drivers.

The 2015 Shell Fraud Matters survey of 110 UK fleet managers and 50 drivers found a two-thirds of managers believe fraud related to fuel and fuel cards is a big issue – and nine out of 10 believe at least some of their drivers are committing offences.

From the other side of the fence, over a quarter of the fleet drivers interviewed admitted to seeing another driver defrauding the company.

However, a much lower number of drivers themselves – only a third – agree that it’s a big issue, highlighting a big attitude gap between staff and managers.

Efficiency is possible

The scale of the potential savings if perceived fraud is wiped out could be huge. Nearly half of respondents reckon that a 5% reduction is achievable. When you consider that road transport alone uses 122 million litres of fuel per day, that could amounts to a potentially very large saving. But what are the types of fraud these professionals feel they are falling victim to?

According to those surveyed, the most costly is drivers syphoning fuel out of company vehicles, while the most frequently occurring is drivers using cash to pay for fuel in order to hide other purchases.

Predictably, drivers feel the various losses are far less frequent than fleet managers – with no more than 12% of drivers themselves believing that fraud occurs regularly.

Education is key

Information and communication are vital. One in ten drivers surveyed believed siphoning fuel to be acceptable behaviour. The fact that twice as many managers as drivers feel informed on the subject suggests that educating drivers would represent a big step towards addressing the problem.

“Does your driver understand what the cost to business is, and if not, then why not share that with them?” asks David Bushnell, Product Manager, Mobility at top leasing company Alphabet.

“If they are on profit-related pay or bonus system or they want to make sure the company they work for is successful, they have got a vested interest in keeping business expenses to a minimum.”

In fact, the single biggest move fleet managers could make is to communicate better with their drivers, and they readily admit it, with 37% of those questioned saying driver awareness is a barrier. That compares with 32% blaming a lack of time to deal with the issue, 30% pinpointing a lack of resources and 25% pointing the finger at driver buy-in as the issue.

Well under a third of fleets run training courses for their drivers, and if the employees aren’t aware of the scale of the problem and the financial hit the company takes, then they’re not going to jump on board with why it needs addressing.

Engaging with drivers, and making them feel part of the process, and illustrating in cash terms the damage they are doing to the company’s profitability, are important and easy steps that can also help drivers feel more a part of the business as a whole.

If you can measure it, you can manage it

So what can be done to overcome a problem that fleet operators clearly believe is costing them a huge amount of money every year?

“Often, fuel fraud involves inflating mileage figures on fuel reclaims, filling non-approved vehicles, or overfilling,” comments Ashley Sowerby, Managing Director of Chevin Fleet Solution.

“The best strategy to spot and reduce overfilling fraud (where people fill up an approved vehicle and at the same time put fuel in jerry cans or another, unapproved vehicle) is to introduce fuel cards. This gives you a basic way of gaining visibility over fuel purchases and provides useful data to help you spot potential fraud.”

As the old business mantra has it, if you’re not measuring it, you can’t manage it, and when it comes to fleet, the tools are there – from fuel cards to sophisticated software – to enable fleet managers to measure, manage and control their fuel spend.

Reducing fleet costs is a never-ending struggle, but it’s clear that companies can make significant savings by weeding out the unnecessary cost caused by drivers engaging in some of these practices that are so damaging the bottom line.

Source: Shell – Fluid Thinking

How to handle driver fraud

Driver fraud in fleets appears to be rife, but that doesn’t mean it’s an inevitable business cost. What can you do to stop your company becoming a victim?

Fraudulent behaviour from drivers is a huge problem for business, with over 90% of fleet managers believing their staff are committing offences. But it’s not an inevitability, and changes in company culture and processes can have a real impact for very little cost.

Start with the information

Understanding the scale of the problem is the first issue, which comes down to how closely a business is monitoring fuel expenses, and where the responsibility for that lies.

For example, it may be that drivers are claiming mileage expenses, which lie in the human resources department, while the drivers themselves report to departmental or fleet managers. This can stop the right information getting to the right people.

Even if there is transparency, there is a question about what information is actually being requested and recorded.

“People can do a great job with fleet policy and make sure the correct cars are being given to the right drivers, but if they are not monitoring how the vehicles are being used, what fuel is going into the vehicle and relative fuel spend compared to the odometer reading then they are at the behest of the driver and relying on them to responsibly declare their actual business miles,” says top leasing company Alphabet’s mobility product manager, David Bushnell. “I’m not saying everyone does it, but the temptation is there.”

Understand driver psychology

It’s important to understand why drivers might be seeking to commit fraud with regard to their fuel expenses. It can come down to a couple of key factors; that company systems aren’t sophisticated enough for drivers to believe any extra claimed expense will be picked up, and the view that it is a victimless crime that provides drivers with a little unofficial bonus, potentially linked to the feeling that the fuel reclaim isn’t at a high enough level.

“Does the driver feel it is a fair reimbursement?” questions Bushnell, pointing out that for company car drivers, the Advisory Fuel Rates are set by HM Revenue and Customs on a quarterly basis, but can seem low in certain circumstances.

“HMRC’s view on fair reimbursement can be a difficulty in that is it a nationwide rate, regardless of where they are based, the local cost of fuel and the type of driving involved,” he says.

The HMRC figures are calculated by the car manufacturer’s average miles per gallon information for business car sales between 2012-14, minus 15% to allow for real-world driving. If drivers are falling close to the edge, or even outside of, this calculation they may feel the need to falsify mileage claims to get the reimbursement they feel they deserve.

Staff who do more driving in congested or even very hilly areas may find their fuel consumption is more than those covering more motorway miles, and perceive an injustice in the reimbursement rates.

HM Revenue and Customs says that the Advisory Fuel Rates are just that – advisory – and businesses are able to reimburse their drivers at a higher or lower rate if they deem it appropriate.

“You can use your own rates which better reflect your circumstances if, for example, your cars are more fuel efficient, or if the cost of business travel is higher than the guideline rates,” says HM Revenue & Customs’ website.

“If you pay rates that are higher than the advisory rates and can’t demonstrate the fuel cost per mile is higher, there is no fuel benefit charge if the mileage payments are solely for miles of business travel. Instead, you will have to treat any excess as taxable profit and as earnings for Class 1 National Insurance purposes.”

Put in place good processes and monitor them

“There is a temptation to round up mileage or guestimate, if drivers are not using navigation or a sophisticated recording system then it’s very easy to round up numbers,” says Bushnell.

“Examine as a minimum what you are recording and who is keeping it. At a minimum, drivers should be recording postcode-to-postcode, the reason for the journey and who they met,” he says.

But asking drivers for the information is one thing, but they need to understand that it will be scrutinised. “It doesn’t need to be any more than Excel, but if you are using a simple system, when was it last audited?” says Bushnell. “It comes down to pointing out a driver’s responsibility to report accurate mileage, and understand that you will do random audits.”

Think carefully about sanctions

But if your drivers are still inclined to cheat the system and are caught, what should companies do? Fraudulent claiming of expenses is not, in isolation, likely to be seen as a fair basis for dismissal.

Writing in their company blog, Nicola Mullinuex, employment law researcher at HR experts Peninsula Business Services, advises that a number of variables would need to be taken into account, including length of service, previous disciplinary record and warnings, and the amount of money that has been wrongly claimed.

“If all of the above were in the employee’s favour, a fair dismissal for a first offence would have to be so serious that it made continued employment untenable,” she says, warning that such misconduct dismissals are rare.

“Evidence of alleged breaches are key so having the correct paperwork, in this case it may be receipts, or mileage counters, or other proof that what would have been claimed is not equal to expenditure, would substantiate any action taken.”

But she warns that, even if dismissal is not appropriate, fuel fraud isn’t something that should be swept under the carpet, and action could range from an informal conversation to formal disciplinary procedures.

“It must be addressed with this particular employee so that he stops doing it, and also to send a message to other employees that fraudulent claiming of expenses is not acceptable,” says Molineux.

Source: Fluid Thinking – Shell

10 fuel-saving tips for long-distance drivers

Fuel costs constitute the second largest cost to fleets (after depreciation), so ensuring that drivers are always striving to be more efficient is vital for any organisation. Pass these tips on to your drivers to help cut fuel bills.

1. Run the check list

Before setting off, drivers should always check tyre pressure. In the normal course of events, tyres lose pressure and also vary according to the outside temperature. If your tyres are under-inflated by just 1psi, your fuel efficiency can be reduced by up to 3%. So pump those tyres up once a week or whenever you fill up. Oil needs to be checked regularly too, so reach for the dipstick before every journey to make sure that your engine is sufficiently lubricated. Higher quality motor oils also help your engine operate more efficiently. Just replacing dirty spark plugs can reduce your fuel consumption by up to 5%.

2. Lighten the load

Carrying extra weight is another no-no for most efficient running of a vehicle – for every extra 100 lbs (45 kg) you carry, your fuel efficiency can drop by 1-2%.  So declutter as much as you can before setting off. Obviously, many fleet drivers have to carry tools, parts, orders or samples in their vehicle, so reducing weight is more challenging in these circumstances. However, any reductions you can make – especially if you’re in a company car that you also use for personal use – will pay dividends in, and on, the long run.

3. Shape up

Allied to ditching any excess weight is ensuring that your vehicle is as aerodynamic as it can be – something that can bring enormous benefits to your fuel bills. So roof racks and roof boxes are to be avoided as much as possible. Drive with your windows closed as much as possible in order to maintain maximum slipperiness through the air.

4. Plan ahead

The quickest way from A to B is the one that has been planned in advance. Before starting any trip, look for the best route, using an online route planner – but make sure to also seek out the latest traffic information for any delays from roadworks or closures due to collisions. If you have a satellite navigation with real-time traffic information, all the better: use it even if you think you know the quickest route. Otherwise, keep up to date with traffic information from the radio while in the car, to avoid any potential problems en route.

5. Get in gear

Vehicle manufacturers help to make selecting the right gear so much easier these days, with prompts to change up or down to maintain efficiency. It’s a good discipline to do so – and even better to anticipate them. Try to get a feel for the engine sound, so you know when the change-up is necessary (usually around 2,000rpm), which means you’re not looking too much at the instruments for the cue.

6. Stop/start for stop-start

Another very useful innovation in the last decade by manufacturers is the stop/start system, which automatically cuts the engine when idling at lights or in stationary traffic.

If your vehicle has this system – and most modern ones do – make sure that it’s not switched off. If you don’t have it fitted, get into the habit of switching off your engine if you’re not going anywhere for 10 seconds or longer.

7. Anticipate

Modern vehicle technology is certainly contributing to improving fuel efficiency these days, but the driver still has a big part to play. Looking far ahead when driving gives you more time and space to react to changes in traffic conditions and situations. This enables you to be smoother – lifting off the accelerator, rather than braking is a more efficient way of driving, for example.

8. Hot or cold

The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) in your vehicle can have a major effect on its efficiency, so use it minimally – or even not at all. Don’t drive in discomfort, but perhaps experiment with short blasts to offset the cold/heat, depending on the time of year – and to de-mist the windscreen to ensure optimal visibility.

9. Relax

Long journeys feel even longer if you’re stressed behind the wheel, so try to stay relaxed when driving, not least because a relaxed driver is an efficient driver.

There are some techniques to make you more emotionally intelligent, which recent research shows can help counteract stress.

Try these short exercises before setting off:

  • Take deep breaths and clear your mind
  • Do some mental maths problems when driving (which keeps the logical side of your brain busy and keeps the more emotional side in check)
  • Practice commentary driving, an advanced driving technique that involves describing what’s going on in front and around you.

10. Stick to the speed limit

Quite apart from the need to adhere to speed limits for legal and corporate social responsibility (CSR) reasons, and the risk of penalties and points on drivers’ licences (which could lead to them losing their jobs), saving fuel is another benefit.

Exceeding the speed limit – especially on longer journeys that primarily involve the use of motorways – might save time, but the sums don’t add up. For example, if you complete a 200-mile trip at an average speed of 80mph, instead of the legal 70mph, you will save 20 minutes of driving time, but the extra fuel you burn could cost around £7. Add another £7 for the return journey and that makes £14. If a fleet driver does similar journeys every day, that’s an extra £70 a week, £280 a month or £3,500 annually. And that’s just one driver: imagine if most, or all, your drivers incur these extra costs and you’ll see the need to impress upon them to stick to the posted limits.

 

Source: Fluid Thinking – Shell