We have previously written about how the trucking industry is experiencing an unprecedented shortage of qualified drivers and how the driver shortage increases the risk of truck accidents on our nation’s roads. There are several factors causing the shortage, but one of the leading causes is pay. Moreover, it’s not only how much truck drivers are paid, but more specifically, how they earn their wages.
Truckers Are Usually Paid Per Mile
Truck drivers are not typically paid a yearly salary or compensated for how many hours they work; they are paid based on the number of miles they drive. Dating back to the 1930’s, the trucking industry has, by and large, operated on a simple pay-per-mile model. This may sound like a reasonable model, but it is unfair to truckers in a variety of ways. For one, they may only receive compensation when driving; while a facility loads or unloads the goods from their truck, they may not receive payment for their time. Furthermore, under the new electronic logging device mandate, if a trucker is sitting in traffic or forced off the road due to mechanical failures, he or she will not receive compensation for their time.
The Dangers of the Pay-Per-Mile Model
At first glance, the average American may wonder how the pay-per-mile model pertains to them; after all, it is an agreement between an employer and an employee.
However, the problem with the pay-per-mile model is that it creates dangerous roads for other motorists by incentivizing truck drivers to engage in risky driving behaviors.
Case-in-point, if a truck driver is hauling a load over a 500-mile stretch, he or she is paid the same amount whether the journey takes 8 hours or 10 hours. This system gives the driver a clear incentive to complete the trip as fast as possible. As a result, truckers speed to their destinations to make more money and speeding is one of the leading causes of truck accidents.
The pay-per-mile model also encourages drivers to take fewer breaks and work extended hours, typically over the federally-mandated amount, to cover longer distances. This leads to fatigued truck drivers who are still incentivized to speed to make more money.
Shipping Bonuses Exacerbate the Problem
In regards to unsafe incentives, the pay-per-mile system is not alone. Shipping bonuses are similar to the pay-per-mile structure because they cause truckers to make risky decisions to get their cargo where it needs to go. Shipping bonuses are incentives that reward truck drivers for completing a shipment. Therefore, truckers eligible for shipping bonuses are incentivized to finish their deliveries as fast as possible. Similar to the pay-per-mile system, the more ground a truck driver covers, the more substantial the paycheck.
Case Study Shows Hourly Pay Reduces Accidents
About 15 years ago, a large trucking company with almost 1,200 drivers studied the effects of the pay-per-mile model. The company noted that despite its drivers’ compliance with federal regulations regarding work hours, its drivers were showing signs of fatigue and caused many traffic accidents. The company switched to an hourly pay rate that would allow drivers to work shorter stints without losing money. As a result, the company saw its accident rate plummet. It also maintained a driver turnover rate of about 17% rather than the 90% national average. These findings show that there is a strong correlation between pay-per-mile compensation structures and high accident totals. Unfortunately, many companies still use the pay-per-mile method despite the potential for misfortune.