Some common ground?
As turnover rates with our nation’s large truckload carriers creep toward 100 percent, Road Safe America and OOIDA find some common ground on one obvious solution – driver pay. Technology and its role? That’s another story.

Letter to Land Line from Stephen C. Owings,  co-founder and president Road Safe America

There has been an abundance of press about the turnover rates in truck driver numbers that have recently risen toward 100 percent again. We believe that a different pay method would go a long way toward solving this perennial problem in the trucking industry.

The pay-by-the-mile and/or pay-by-the-job payment method not only is dangerous, but is also unfair to the hardworking professional men and women drivers who provide such a crucial service to the overall American economy. One doesn’t need to be a psychiatrist to understand that paying by the job, and/or by the mile, encourages truck drivers to make as many miles each day as possible. In the past, the lack of electronic, third-party tracking of drive time and the lack of enforcement that results from dwindling tax revenues, particularly in economic downturns, have combined to allow some truck drivers to drive in excess of the allowable hours of service, and others to drive faster than the law allows and/or is prudent given traffic and weather circumstances.

We are excited that electronic logging requirements are on their way as a result of the MAP-21 bill. We are also looking forward to the DOT issuing a long overdue speed limiter rule for our country. (We are the last leading country in the world without any rule regarding settings of speed limiters on our heaviest commercial trucks.)

The trucking industry has been trying to manage with unmanageable turnover rates among truckers for decades. We believe that the biggest reason is that the drivers, who are least in control of the number of miles that they can drive legally each day, are held accountable for the uncontrollable – such as weather, traffic and other delay-causing events. So naturally an offer of a few more cents per mile will take a driver to a competitor.

These hardworking professionals should be paid for all of their working hours whether they are waiting at a dock, driving or sitting in a traffic jam. We also believe that they should be paid overtime as is required for nearly every other job in America.

These steps would not only immediately make our supply chain much more efficient, as different stakeholders would suddenly have a financial incentive to do so, but would also mean that truck drivers would finally be paid in the professional way that they deserve to be compensated.

A few hero companies, such as Dupré Logistics, a hazmat logistics service provider with almost 1,000 professional drivers based in Lafayette, La., began their journey on hourly driver pay in the 1990s and on electronic logs since 2006. It is our understanding that their turnover is much lower than the national average and they are able to attract a higher quality of applicant. Their drivers are extremely grateful and loyal to the company for treating them like the professionals that they certainly are.

For those who are sincerely interested in reducing trucking’s turnover problem, we fervently believe that this is not only a step in that direction, but also one that will improve safety for us all.  

Response from Todd Spencer, executive vice president  of OOIDA

Thank you for your letter, Mr. Owings. I am sure many Land Line readers will appreciate your perspective. I’m in the category of sharing some of your views, and other views not so much.

Certainly turnover in drivers is not good. Regardless of the occupation, when you are new and inexperienced, mistakes happen with greater frequency. With vehicles – cars or trucks – that can mean a crash. Kinda makes you wonder why no meaningful driver training standards have ever been required.

Pay or, more precisely, pay that is not sufficient to offset the hours, working conditions and personal sacrifices demanded of drivers is the biggest reason for high driver turnover. This is by no means a revelation.

Most bigger carriers have known and acknowledged this for the past quarter-century and even longer. But beyond giving lip service to the issue, that’s really as far as it goes.

The economic forces that dominate trucking are in constant conflict with paying a driver more than what a driver could be replaced for. Hence the starting pay might not go higher no matter how many years – even decades – of exemplary safe driving you have behind the wheel. Certainly drivers should be paid for all the time spent loading, unloading and for all the time spent working in any non-driving activity. It’s unconscionable that they aren’t now.

This isn’t just a driver issue. Lost productivity at shippers and receivers costs both truckers and society billions each year.

It’s long been one of OOIDA’s top objectives to push for the removal of the exemption from the FLSA requirements for overtime pay and to promote hourly compensation for employee drivers.

We have yet to see anything at all showing carriers that use electronic logging devices and speed limits are safer and have fewer crashes than carriers that don’t. I would think that all those who embrace a mandate of this technology would just as eagerly switch to hourly pay for their drivers. It would be the perfect complement, right?

OK, I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

If there is anything that motor carrier proponents of mandatory ELDs for all carriers have made clear, it’s that they believe these devices are productivity tools to elicit a 70-hour workweek from drivers as the norm. This will make truck driving even a less attractive career choice in the future.

I suspect you saw the recent comments from a large motor carrier executive saying a move away from mileage compensation for drivers would be financial suicide for carriers. They may be trying to avoid financial “suicide,” but what they are doing is killing off the qualified driver pool. Incrementally, each day safe, experienced drivers leave the industry for good and are replaced with new ones who lack appropriate training and the skills needed to operate safely on the road.

Thanks again for your letter and hopefully your support of efforts to improve the lives of our nation’s hardworking truckers now and in the future. LL