What steps can operators of commercial vehicles take to protect their investment and manage their costs? Stephen Ellis, Head of Training for thre Road Haulage Association, points out that driver training can deliver great savings in any operation.

The challenges faced by us all currently are well documented and many of the testing topics are equally relevant to commercial activities and providers of public services.

One of the areas of major concern in terms of costs, impact on the environment and legislative compliance is the operation of commercial vehicles. Even major haulage companies who are well versed in the many challenges and are well equipped to handlethem, fall foul of the myriad legal restrictions on the use of such vehicles.

There are arguably three main areas of focus in this field of operation currently and they are the cost of fuel, increasingly stringent environmental expectations, and legislation, not least of all that relating to driver qualifications.

The Government's insistence on ratcheting up fuel duty has led to the situation where diesel has increased in price expedentially. At the same time, the same Government tries to convince vehicle operators that inflation sits at somewhere around 2.5%.

This in turn makes it exceedingly difficult to explain to residents why your operating costs are going up in excess of published inflation figures.

Meanwhile, we are all expected to invest in modern, environmentally friendly commercial vehicles, perhaps taking advantage of latest technology and alternative fuels to contribute to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Further to this, our drivers are required to undertake further training to enable them to continue in their employment.

We at the Road Haulage Association exist to look after our members, the majority of whom operate commercial goods vehicles for hire and reward and are well versed in tackling some of the challenges I have outlined above.

If you are reading this article in LAPV, you may already be among their number.

What steps can operators of commercial vehicles take to protect their investment and manage their costs? Well the answers to that question are impossible to explain in any depth in the time and space available to me. However, I would like to take this opportunity to offer a few tips which may just point you in the right direction.

Fuel costs

Government and other commentators predict that the cost of fuel is likely to continue to rise in the future with little hope of it ever returning to previous cost levels. In the meantime, as we have seen, the British Government is set on using fuel duty to drive down demand for fuel (or replenish the empty coffers ' you decide which).

There are a number of alternative fuels in the market place with a similar number of advantages and disadvantages to each, but it is fair to say that in the short to mid term, diesel will continue to be the fuel of choice for most commercial vehicles, even if it is mixed with another product such as bio diesel in increasing amounts over the years.

Therefore, there is only one sure fire way to reduce your spend on fuel and that is to reduce fuel useage.

Vehicle selection, intelligent route planning and vehicle loading will all make measurable contributions to fuel reduction, but the one key element is the driver.

A well-trained driver can reduce fuel useage by as much as 20% when compared to a less knowledgable colleague. I am confident that if a supplier offered us fuel at a 20% discount, we would bite their hand off; well that saving is there today for those who are prepared to invest in the most important element of your vehicles.


Larger companies are already required to report on their carbon emissions (from April 2010), and it is likely that those affected by this legislation will increase as the Government lowers the electricity use threshold which drives the requirement for reporting.

Many customers are also asking for environmental policies and procedures from suppliers and these documents can be the difference between gaining and losing an order.

There is a wealth of free information on the subject from a range of sources showing a number of ways you can reduce your environmental impact and you may wish to consider joining one of the benchmarking schemes so you can judge your progress againstothers. Reduced Environmental impact generally leads directly to reduced costs.

Driver Training

As many of you are already aware, the legislative burden does not reduce. VoSA are investing more resources into enforcement and are, quite rightly, focussing their efforts on those with the worst record, or the most likely to fail to comply with the legislation.

The relatively recent introduction of the Operator Compliance Risk Score measurement tool in conjunction with the addition of Roadside fines through the Graduated Fixed Penalty scheme have raised the profile of their activities in the transport industry trade Press.

It has never been more important to ensure your staff training and management procedures make certain that your operation complies.

The leading topic for drivers of goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes GVW in recent months has been the introduction of the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence in September 2009.

This requires new licence holders to pass a more stringent testing regime consisting of four modules (as opposed to the previous two modules).

For those of us who hold a licence to drive vehicles over 3.5 Tonnes we retain our acquired rights to drive these vehicles for up to four years, within which time we will need to attend 35 hours of Approved Periodic Training. There will then be an ongoing requirement for us to attend similar training every five years for the rest. of our careers.

The reasons behind the introduction of Driver CPC include;

*Improved Road Safety .Better skilled drivers

*Drivers who are more economic and environmentally aware

*Continued development of skills throughout a driver's career

*Improved professional image

*To attract younger people into the profession (Age to drive LGV dropped to 18).

Savings for operators through better trained drivers

Many vehicle operators have bemoaned the fact that Government has not specified precisely what training drivers must undergo, instead leaving the employer, or individual driver to choose the most relevant training programme from the published syllabus.

This flexibility allows each operation to review their business needs and select, or devise, a training programme suitable for their needs and focussed on any specific equipment used which brings benefits to the operation, customers and staff.

Training can be classroom based, which is more economical on a cost per head basis, allowing larger groups to be trained, or In cab which will bring greater returns for a higher initial outlay.

Due to the wording of the legislation, online training is not an option due to the requirement for training to be in the presence of an approved instructor.

One of the many controversial aspects of the system is the lack of a requirement for drivers to pass any kind of test at the end of a periodic training session, in fact, such testing is specifically excluded from inclusion in a training session. However, we can and do, include “confirmation questions and exercises” within our training sessions as a way of measuring progress.

Despite a large budget and three years of awareness raising activities by DSA, it still remains that only about one third of drivers have commenced their training programmes with the second anniversary approaching.

The reasons behind this are hard to fathom but include an element of “burying one's head in the sand” in the belief that the requirement will somehow go away, or will not be enforced by the authorities.

I am assured by the Department for Transport and the Driving Standards Agency that this will most definitely not be the case.

In the meantime, those who delay will be facing a shortage of training provision in any last minute rush.

RHA Training is one of the leading providers of Driver CPC Periodic Training, having helped in excess of 8,000 drivers with their periodic training, including many local authority drivers.