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Best Practices for Training Utility Fleet Drivers to Cut Engine Idling

Written by Gary L. Wollenhaupt on . Posted in .

Most fleet professionals understand the benefits of idle reduction. It’s the lowest of the low-hanging fruit.

Unfortunately, too many fleet managers and drivers still believe certain old-school conventional wisdom, like starting a truck uses more fuel than letting it idle.

Up-to-date research pokes holes in those old beliefs, but it can be hard to change minds. Various programs are available to help fleets build new policies and procedures to make the training stick. Yet it’s difficult to break old habits and create new ones.

For fleet managers, there doesn’t seem to be a downside to reducing idling. There’s a direct correlation between reducing carbon dioxide pollution and fuel use. Each gallon of fuel burned produces about 20 pounds of CO2. Reducing emissions also lowers fuel costs.

“You have a double win because if you reduce fuel consumption, you reduce your fuel cost, and you proportionately reduce the emissions,” said Linda Gaines, transportation system analyst at Argonne National Laboratory. She has conducted extensive research on idling and helped design the IdleBox idling reduction training curriculum (see The IdleBox curriculum includes an idling reduction pledge form that drivers can sign, attesting that they will commit to limiting vehicle idling for a designated amount of time, usually set by their organization.

Idle reduction is also free. Technology like telematics, automatic start-stop engines and hybrid vehicles can play a role. But fleets can see a real-time reduction through establishing policies and improving driver behavior using the vehicles already in the fleet.

Sure, some idling is unavoidable, depending on the work profiles of the trucks. That’s why it’s essential to understand the duty cycles of different types of vehicles, according to Gaines.

“From a technical standpoint, it depends on what you’re trying to minimize,” she said. “If you want to minimize carbon dioxide emissions overall, you might make different decisions than if you want to minimize NOx emissions.”

Some fleets have established idling policies with strict time limits. For example, Multnomah County, Oregon, established an idling limit of 20 seconds for county and commercial vehicles on county property, except for vehicles used in public safety or emergency response situations. The policy also limits warmup idling to 20 seconds. City officials in West Palm Beach, Florida, have set an idling limit of five minutes to support the city’s goal of reducing emissions.

Get Personal
According to Ron Zima, founder and CEO of GoGreen Communications Inc. and a consultant known as the Idle Free Guy, two factors will make or break the success of an idle reduction program. First is senior management buy-in. Second, drivers must be engaged at a personal level.

“You have to get drivers to care about reducing idling,” Zima said.

He recommended talking to drivers about what’s important to them: their families, hobbies like cars, and their wallets. GoGreen’s training covers the impact of emissions on families’ health as well as the cost of wasted fuel and idling in their personal vehicles.

“We believe that idle reduction behavior begins at home,” Zima said. “When you engage drivers about things they really care about, it’s amazing how enthusiastic the vast majority of the operators become.”

Idle reduction programs can take many forms, including workshops, meetings or online sessions. The training can include tips for improving fuel efficiency, including reducing aggressive acceleration and braking in addition to reducing idling.

Gaines noted that positive reinforcement is usually more effective than negative feedback. The IdleBox toolkit includes tools to help fleets gamify the program or offer incentives, rewards and recognition for drivers who reduce idling.

About the Author: Gary L. Wollenhaupt is a Phoenix-based freelance writer who covers the transportation, energy and technology sectors for a variety of publications and companies.


Idle Thoughts
Vehicles that idle unnecessarily are simply wasting resources. “Remember, you get zero miles per gallon when the truck is sitting still with the engine on,” said Linda Gaines, transportation system analyst at Argonne National Laboratory.

There are two types of idling that fleet managers can target for training – choice idle, which is within the driver’s control, and induced idle, which is outside their control.

1. Choice Idle

  • Engine/cabin warming: All vehicle types (today’s vehicles warm up faster by being driven rather than by idling – see manufacturer guidance).
  • Waiting: Delivery trucks, utility trucks, transit buses, shuttle buses and personal vehicles.
  • Vehicle as an office: During lunch breaks, to complete paperwork, to make phone calls.

2. Induced Idle

  • Running scene and emergency lights and other auxiliaries: Emergency vehicles, utility vehicles.
  • Powering HVAC for passengers or cargo: All vehicle types for operator and passenger comfort in extreme weather.
  • Performing non-propulsion work: Bucket trucks, sewer-line maintenance trucks, woodchippers. 

Source: Clean Cities Coalition Network