Man using phone whilst driving

How many of your drivers use their phones while driving?

As a fleet operator, you may be distressed by the idea that your drivers could be choosing to use their mobile phones while on the job rather than paying full attention to the road. After all, while multi-tasking is a great skill – we’re only human and simply do not have the ability to operate a vehicle while being fully alert to road dangers, and texting or making a phone call.

So, using a phone while driving is definitely a bad thing, but we all see drivers on their phones from time to time while we’re on the roads – meaning there are a bunch of potential issues to unpack here. There are questions around whether (and how) drivers actually use phones while driving, the legality of using a phone while driving, and how to approach this topic within your organisation. That’s exactly what we’re going to dive into in this article.

Mobile phone driving laws

The Department of Transport’s 2017 research found that as many as 445,000 drivers are using their phones while driving. Whether they realise it or not, this is simply not legal. In fact, it’s illegal to use any handheld mobile device while driving.

The relevant UK laws we can look to for guidance on the use of mobile devices while operating a vehicle are:

  • The UK guidance on using a phone or sat nav while driving. This guidance advocates the use of a cradle for those in need of a mobile device while driving and outlines the conditions under which this is safe – including when using a Bluetooth headset or windscreen mount.
  • The Crown Prosecution Service’s legal guidance on mobile phones & road traffic. This article helps provide clarity as to what can be defined as a handheld device, and what exactly constitutes driving.

It’s important that all drivers within a commercial fleet have accurate and up to date knowledge of these laws to protect both themselves and other road users from harm. To check whether this is a prominent issue amongst your drivers, you could look to have an honest conversation with them, or survey them to test grey areas that help you identify whether these laws are fully understood.

Here are some questions to help get you started:

Q: Is it legal to drive while texting?

A: No

Q: Is it legal to send texts while you’re waiting at a red light?

A: No. This applies even if your engine is turned off and the vehicle is stationary. The only exception to this is if you’re using hands free communications, which are permitted so long as they do not distract you from driving.

Q: Is it legal to plug your phone into your car and charge it while driving?

A: Also no.

Q: How can you take an urgent phone call when driving?

A: The correct way to do this is to pull over into a designated parking space, turn your engine off, apply the handbrake and remove the keys from the ignition.

All of these individual operations are still considered part of the driving, so a vehicle is not considered to be truly stationary in law until all of these operations have been completed. After this process has been completed, the more time that passes means it’s less likely the driver is considered to be actively driving.

What happens if you’re caught on your phone while driving?

It’s important to consider the potential implications of breaking these laws, both from a driver and company perspective.

For drivers

For drivers, there’s a risk of committing prosecutable offences directly related to using a mobile phone while driving. There are also separate offences around not being in full control of a vehicle – which can apply if the driver is deemed to have been distracted by a phone in a cradle.

If a police officer sees any such offence committed, prosecution will follow – and it will result in points added onto a driver’s licence and a fine, as well as potentially more serious ramifications based on the severity and impact of the offence.

If a driver is disqualified from driving as a result of these types of offences, they’ll find themselves unable to continue driving professionally.

For fleet operators

From a business perspective, there are practical issues associated with having your drivers disqualified. For example, it could generate a bad reputation for your business if such issues occur repeatedly and are picked up on by the media – which may impact your ability to secure contracts and bring new customers on board.

What’s more, there’s already a severe lorry driver shortage in the UK (as of August 2021) so recruiting new team members is likely to be challenging. A much better option, then, is to take steps now to improve driver safety and ensure laws are being followed by your employees.

Man using phone whilst driving, ignoring the road

How to encourage your drivers to put down their phones

So, what practical steps can you take to achieve this within your organisation?

  1. Have an open and honest conversation with your drivers about the laws. Look to test their understanding of the laws and educate them on best practice.
  2. Ensure that your employee contracts include clauses that explain what happens in situations whereby a driver has been found breaking the laws, including if it has resulted in an accident.
  3. Support your drivers with the right technology. While many modern vehicles have built-in Sat Navs and the likes, it’s important to make sure that your drivers have access to cradles or hands-free alternatives that prevent them from having to use their phones while driving.

One final thought is that it’s simply not worth looking for ways around the existing laws. Did you know, for example, that in event of a serious accident, the police have the right to access a phone and analyse its data to determine whether the device was being used at the time of an incident, and could have therefore caused the driver to lose control of their vehicle?

How could Fuel Card Services help?

At Fuel Card Services, we specialise in supporting drivers and fleets with the right technology. Our range of fleet services is designed to you access to:

  • Advanced telematics – a fully customisable tracking system tailored to your fleet’s requirements that can improve safety for your drivers.
  • MileageCount – an intelligent, automated system for accurately reporting mileage claims.
  • DriversClub – our fast and free fuel-finder app that helps your drivers quickly locate their nearest fuel pump.

If you’re serious about bringing the right technology to your fleet, and saving costs both through tech and having the right fuel cards for your drivers, then contact our friendly experts to find out how we can support you.

Graphic of semiconductor microchip

How the semiconductor shortage has impacted vehicle manufacturing

The world is in the midst of a huge semiconductor shortage that has the potential to wreak havoc on vehicle manufacturing. What started as a temporary delay has escalated quickly.

But why has this shortage affected the world of vehicle manufacturing so strongly?

What is a semiconductor chip?

The semiconductor chip is found in a huge number of electronic devices. From TVs to computers to cars to phones; they all require these chips. Almost every industry in the world uses and relies on a steady supply of them.

Chips are essentially the “brain” of any electronic device. They are made from silicon, which is one of the most abundant elements on the planet. The first silicon transistor was built in 1947, and since then, the chip industry is now worth £410bn.

So why is there a semiconductor shortage if the materials required are so abundant, and why is vehicle manufacturing being stunted as a result?

Why is there a shortage?

There are a number of reasons attributed to the shortage. However, the size of this shortage is down to the Covid-19 pandemic.

There was a blip in the manufacturing of semiconductor chips when the pandemic hit. Supply issues and temporary factory shutdowns caused what was expected to be a temporary delay.

However, the pandemic brought with it an unexpected side effect. With many of us being instructed to stay at home, whether that be to work or not, we all found a new level of reliance on our digital devices. The result of this was a 15% increase in demand for semiconductors; a demand that the industry is struggling to keep up with.

Why does the semiconductor shortage affect vehicle manufacturing?

Think about your own vehicles – how much technology do you have on your dashboard? Do you have a built-in sat-nav or digital speedometer? Both of these things require the semiconductor chips that manufacturers are struggling to get their hands on. Even your radio will have one!

Then consider the more tech-heavy vehicles. In many modern vehicles, systems such as traction control, emissions, cruise control, fuel injection and much more are handled by a computer. The same goes for electric vehicles, which are fitted with state of the art technology to control its many different systems. They are becoming more popular each year, but it is questionable whether manufacturers will be able to maintain this steady increase in production if they can’t get their hands on the needed materials.

Depending on the complexity of the vehicle, there can be anywhere between 50 and 1000 semiconductors used in their design.

Man sitting at computer with two monitors with car grapbics

What implications does that shortage have?

The result of the shortage is a sizeable delay to vehicle manufacturing. Delivery times for many cars has jumped from 3 months to 6 months. Furthermore, new models of vans are thought to be delayed until 2022 the earliest.

Ford, for example, have been cutting shifts at production factories around the world. They reported that they expected to lose as much as half of all planned production in the second quarter of 2021, and their profits could be hit by up to $2.5bn by the end of the year. One of the factories facing cuts is one that produces highly profitable pickup trucks, which will contribute greatly to their losses.

Countries such as Japan and China have recently experienced a huge drop in production. China saw a four-month low, and Japan saw the biggest monthly drop in a year.

We could see an increase in the car prices, or begin to see vehicles without as many gadgets installed as we are used to. Manufacturers are having to discern which vehicles they need to prioritise. With a limited number of chips, they need to focus on the vehicles with the most demand. On the other hand, with manufacturers being encouraged to meet emissions targets, they may choose to focus more on hybrid and electric vehicles instead.

With this in mind, it will definitely pay to keep your vehicles well maintained for the duration of this shortage. Having to replace an old vehicle during a time where vehicles are no being manufactured quickly enough could be a very slow process indeed.

Get in touch with the team at MyService.Expert, and see how you can simplify your company vehicle maintenance.

Car driving in hot weather

7 top tips for driving in a heatwave

Countries around the globe have been hit by heatwaves throughout summer 2021, and the UK is no exception. Contrary to the typically grey, overcast weather that we brits love to complain about, temperatures reached around 29 degrees during heated spells in July.

Did you know, though, that driving in a heatwave can be incredibly dangerous? That’s why we’ve compiled our top tips to help raise awareness around the dangers of driving in a hot car, while also aiming to teach drivers how to cool their vehicles down.

Driving in extreme heat

Just before we jump into our tips, though, why is driving in extreme heat an issue? Well, research conducted by the car manufacturer SEAT found that driving in 35 degree heat could reduce a driver’s reaction time by 20% when compared to driving in 25 degree heat. That’s a pretty significant amount, and we all know that slower reaction times lead to more accidents, and potentially even fatalities, on UK roads.

So, let’s look at how to keep your car at a comfortable and safe temperature, without wasting too much time messing about!

Our hot weather driving safety tips

We’re sure you have your own tips and tricks that have been passed on to you, but here are our hot takes.

1. Don’t set off straight away

During spells of hot weather, your car’s internal temperature is likely to raise quickly while it’s stationary. So, hopping straight into the vehicle and setting off in a hurry could leave you feeling disoriented or light-headed.

Consequently, we’d recommend leaving your doors or windows open for around 30 seconds to a minute before turning your aircon on. It’ll also mean your aircon has to do less work to cool the car down initially, which is a smart approach both in terms of economy and eco-friendliness.

It might also be worth wafting your car doors if you’re trying to cool the car down quickly. This actually works, and can drop the temperature by a few degrees with less than a minute’s wafting.

2. Use the optimal aircon settings

We estimate that the ideal car, van, or lorry temperature you should be aiming for when driving is around 21 degrees, so try and hover around that number while using your aircon.

It could also be wise to use the ‘auto’ setting on your aircon. When activated, your car will maintain the temperature you’ve set it to, by sending the vehicle’s compressor (which cools and heats the air), and the fan, into a repeating cycle.

3. Know how to keep cool in a car without aircon

Not all cars are privileged enough to have access to an effective aircon system. What, then, should you do if you’re driving without aircon on a hot summer’s day?

Firstly, wear breathable clothes. Loose fitting clothing is essential to your driving wardrobe. If needed, you can always bring a change of clothes for when you reach your destination.

One key note though is to avoid wearing dangerous footwear that you think will help combat the heat, but could actually imperil other road users. Flip flops are a no-go.

It’s also wise to stay hydrated on your travels – which will help you maintain homeostasis and keep your concentration, even in tough conditions. This is, in fact, a good general driving tip regardless of the heat – but it becomes particularly poignant when you consider that you could become drowsy while driving along during a hot, long summer day.

Exhausted woman driving in heat with cold water bottle pressed to forehead

4. Buy a car that’s equipped to handle hot weather

Price, style, and fuel-efficiency shouldn’t be the only factors influencing your purchasing decision when buying a new car. Think of safety, too. If you’re going to be frequently facing hot weather, you could look for:

  • Interior materials that are heat-resistant (for example, leather can crack more quickly if over-exposed to heat).
  • An interior that’s adequately spacious.
  • Lighter coloured paints, which typically absorb less heat.
5. Learn how to keep a parked car cool

It’s also worth thinking about what happens to your car while you leave it unattended. Whether you’re working and have to leave your car parked to attend meetings, or perhaps you’re out enjoying the sun, the car you left behind in the carpark is subject to the elements.

To avoid having it overheat, you could think about parking under a tree or in a shaded area; minimising its exposure to the sun as much as possible. This may seem silly, but remember that the sun does move throughout the day – so plan ahead by a few hours where possible.

7. Consider tyre pressure

Tyre blowouts are a real threat in extreme heat. When tyre pressures are too low, hot external temperatures can cause the air within your tyre to expand as it heats, which may result in the tyre literally popping while you’re driving along.

We can’t understate how dangerous this is to road users. And, to push the tyre pressure cause even further, there are advantages you could get access to by paying proper attention to your tyre pressure. For example, by adequately pumping up your tyres to a healthy level, you could actually save money on fuel by reducing the amount of power required to move your (now smoothly rolling) tyres along the road.

We hope you found our tips for driving in a heatwave useful, and we wish you safe and comfortable journeys even in the hottest weather the UK can muster.

How can Fuel Card Services help?

Well, we can’t control the weather. But we can ensure that drivers operating a commercial fleet, whether that’s a taxi business or a fleet of delivery lorries, have the safety of their vehicles properly cared for.

Our range of fleet services can help you and your drivers with everything from advanced telematics to accurately reporting mileage claims, while our MyService.Expert service can support you with cost-effective vehicle maintenance and repair.

Driver's hands on wheel of HGV

Government support of the haulage industry during the driver shortage

The government recently announced a package of support for the road haulage industry to combat the growing driver shortage. Unfortunately, the pandemic has only exacerbated an already urgent crisis.

Why is there a driver shortage?

The driver shortage is a result of a number of factors. Primarily, however, the reason for the shortage is simply a lack of new drivers.

The current pool of drivers edges closer to retirement age, but a very small number of new, younger drivers are entering the industry. To even get a HGV license can cost thousands of pounds, making it very unachievable for young people straight out of school or higher education.

Even if that barrier to entry weren’t a huge problem, young people aren’t being easily persuaded to join the haulage industry. There’s an impression that the job would involve long work days, time away from home and low compensation.

How has the pandemic worsened things?

With lockdowns and other travel restrictions looming, many European drivers left the country. Haulage companies have said that few of these drivers have returned.

In addition, HGV driver tests were postponed. There is now a huge backlog of drivers waiting to be tested that would already have passed, had the pandemic not halted things. In a letter to the Prime Minister, the Road Haulage Association pointed out that 30,00 test slots were lost, resulting in a drop of 25,000 passes.

What is the effect of the driver shortage?

The most noticeable result of the shortage is lack of supply. You’ll likely see more and more empty shelves in supermarkets in the coming months. There simply aren’t enough drivers to get stock to where it needs to be. This could see the return of mass panic buying, though stores such as Iceland have advised against it, saying the problem does not warrant this level of panic.

An unfortunate side effect is food wastage. Produce is reaching stores later than it should, meaning its shelf life is drastically reduced if it isn’t already spoiled. In fact, 50,000kg of fresh food went to waste in a single week in June according to The Grocer.

Of course, with low levels of supply comes a demand that cannot be met. With this comes rising prices. Expect and prepare to be paying a little more for your food in the coming months, as stores will need to make up the cost.

This doesn’t just impact the food industry. BP have had to close a handful of UK sites due to shortages in petrol and diesel. However, the company stated that the supply issues were being resolved in a day.

What are the government doing to help the haulage industry?

The government recently wrote an open letter addressed to the UK Logistics Sector. It outlines measures that the government will take to help tackle the HGV driver shortage.

Firstly, the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) are increasing the amount of testing through overtime and allocating additional staff. Successful passes have increased from 1,150 per week (pre-COVID) to 1,500. The DfT (Department for Transport) aims to increase this number to 2,000 by consulting about the “delegation of the off-road manoeuvres as part of the HGV driving test”.

Changes to provisional licenses could allow candidates to progress straight to the articulated lorry test without first having to pass the rigid lorry test.

Relaxed requirements are also being considered in relation to newer car license holders taking extra tests to drive car/van and trailer combinations. The hope is that this would free up more testing capacity for HGVs.

The government is also increasing funding to the Large Goods Vehicle Driver apprenticeship. This aims to tackle the huge issue of the barrier to entry for younger people. With an apprenticeship such as this, they will be more financially supported, making becoming a licensed driver a more realistic prospect.

This letter outlines further steps such as increasing support towards hiring, relaxation of driver’s hours rules and maximising retention.

The full letter can be read here.

Two HGV drivers in hi-vis jackets looking at tablet

Will this solve the issue?

These measures should see a huge uptake in recruitment, which is of course the main issue. Without an increase in recruitment, retired drivers will not be replaced and the crisis will worsen in the coming years.

However, the haulage industry has expressed concerns that these measures are not severe enough.

Richard Burnett of the RHA has stated that these measures are a great step into solving the problem. However, they are long term solutions. Burnett states that overseas help is needed immediately, and short-term visas must be allocated to foreign drivers.

With supply issues only set to worsen with the driver shortage, along with many workers being forced to isolate during the pandemic, it remains to be seen whether these government measures will have any immediate effect on the crisis.

Is your fleet struggling with its operations during this turbulent time? Now more than ever, every driver and every vehicle matters. Get in touch with Fuel Card Services today to see how we can assist you. Whether that be with keeping fuel costs down, optimising your vehicle usage or improving vehicle maintenance, or team is happy to help!

electric charging lane

Electric roads – charging your car while driving

There’s a vision shared by tech industry leaders, environmentalists, and governments around the world to replace our current vehicles and infrastructure with more sustainable electric equivalents.

Closer to home, the UK government is in fact committed to a net-zero carbon emissions transition by 2050. So, electric vehicles are inevitable – but what’s the most effective way of powering them, and could electric roads be viable source of power?

Electric vehicle challenges

The core challenge with powering electric vehicles that we’re already experiencing, and may face for years to come, is battery life. Most electric vehicle batteries on roads today are rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

These are effective at storing electricity, but the sheer amount of power needed to keep an electric vehicle going for hours is enormous. If we build larger lithium-ion batteries, then we’ll face longer battery charging times, and deplete our natural resource of lithium.

Green Tech Media investigated whether our current reserves of lithium can be scaled to meet the increasing demand for batteries driven by companies like Tesla, who want to introduce ‘Gigafactories’ capable of producing millions of battery units at speed. Their conclusion was ‘not just no, but hell no’.

So, we’ll need a breakthrough in electric battery technology, or an alternative source of energy to guarantee the future of electric car production – which is likely to become more pressing as more legislation is introduced to promote the use of sustainable energy sources. One of those alternative energy sources could be electric roads.

Electric roads explained

The basic premise for electric roads is incredibly simple; the road infrastructure is responsible for supplying electricity to all vehicles using the road at any one time. Typically, this is achieved via either overhead or underground power lines, which transfer power directly to vehicles via inductive coils, or conductive rails.

Within most electric road systems actively used in the world today, overhead powerlines are limited to commercial use, while ground based power systems are estimated to be the most cost-effective by experts.

You can find electric roads in:

  • South Korea – where electric roads were introduced as early as 2013 to provide a wireless power source designed to recharge OLEV buses (electric buses, essentially).
  • Sweden – whereby a ‘dynamic charging’ system was introduced in 2019 that utilises an electrified rail system embedded within 2km of road to charge electric vehicles.

Sweden have outlined a plan and drafted a map to enable national expansion of the electric road system, which is suspected to require electrifying around 20,000km of road in order to meet a target of reducing domestic carbon emissions by 70% (by 2030).

So, electric roads are in fact a reality in the world today. They’re also being considered in the UK.

The UK’s stance on electric roads

The UK government funded a study to gauge how cost effective it would be to implement an overhead electric cable system that powers road-using freight vehicles. They estimated the total cost of this ‘E-highways’ system would amount to £19.3bn, but that it could also pay for itself within 15 years, while drastically cutting carbon emissions.

electric road charging a hybrid truck

For the commercial fleet industry, such a system could have huge repercussions. Fleets that adopt electric technology quickly and mitigate their carbon impacts could avoid the costs brought about by future legislation, such as a potential carbon emissions tax. There are also projects in the works to examine the potential impact of electric roads on consumer vehicles.

Highways England begun considering and testing electric road technology in 2015, in a project that was later cancelled in 2016 due to budget limitations. However, the infrastructure that was examined is very similar to the South Korean technology introduced back in 2013 and could make a resurgence. In Highways England’s system, electric cables buried beneath these roads generate an electromagnetic field, which is absorbed by a coil placed within each electric vehicle to wirelessly transfer power.

EV safety matters, so it’s fortunate that this technology is also proving to be completely safe to pedestrians and road users alike. The total voltage output of this system at surface level is around 1 volt, meaning you wouldn’t feel the electric current even when walking barefoot.

Are electric roads cost effective?

There seems to be a very strong consensus amongst studies that electric road systems would be significantly cheaper to introduce than a national network of charging stations and larger batteries for EVs.

The former could even cost around half the amount, according to findings from the Swedish ERS study we touched on earlier. Obviously, electric vehicles will still need to be equipped with batteries even when using an electric road system. However, the total battery capacity could be reduced by around 80% when compared to a system that solely utilises charging stations.

That’s a huge saving, which could prove to be a sustainable option that mitigates the lithium resource challenges we’re facing, while also proving safe and effective for road users and pedestrians alike. For more insights on this topic, read our article on how the cost of electric cars compares to petrol equivalents.

What does this mean for commercial fleets?

As a commercial fleet operator, you may want to keep your eyes on the latest developments in electrification. Realistically, it’s likely to be a good few years from now (2021) before we see this technology implemented at scale throughout the UK, however businesses that capitalise on the advantages the technology could bring and modernise their operations accordingly could gain an edge over the competition.

In the meantime, fleet operators should take every step possible to become more efficient and save money on fuel costs. That’s where the team at Fuel Card Services can help. We supply fuel cards from a range of market leading brands, across networks covering the whole of the UK. Check out our fuel card offering to see whether your drivers could be paying less each time they stop for diesel or petrol.

There are also efficiencies to be made within fleet servicing, for which we’ve designed a set of services that can make fleet management that little bit easier. From advanced telematics to fuel-pump locator apps, we can help you become more efficient.