Are Truck Driver Pay Structures Compromising Highway Safety?

Unsurprisingly, less-than-optimal pay structures significantly contribute to the nation’s ongoing shortage of experienced commercial truck and 18-wheeler drivers. However, federal regulators are growing concerned that the trucking industry’s compensation practices might also incentivize truckers to engage in risky driving behaviors that increase the potential for a crash.

The Killino Firm’s Truck Accident Lawyers believe the victims of reckless commercial drivers and negligent trucking companies deserve compensation for their pain and suffering. If you or someone you love was injured or tragically killed in an 18-wheeler crash or other trucking-related accident, call our law firm toll-free at 1-877-875-2927 to speak with an attorney and learn more about your legal rights.

Most Truckers Only Get Paid When Their Rig is Moving

According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), the average long-haul trucker made around $69,000 in salary and bonuses in 2021. While that might seem like reasonable compensation, it doesn’t tell the whole story. To understand the link between truck driver compensation and highway safety, it’s essential to know how the trucking industry generally pays its drivers.

Many interstate truck drivers spend more than 70 hours per week behind the wheel, meaning they’re on the job almost twice as long as workers in other industries making similar wages. And while most hourly and blue-collar workers are paid 1 ½ times their regular hourly rate for time worked in excess of 40 hours per week, trucking companies are exempt from federal overtime pay requirements.

In many cases, truckers are also compensated by the mile rather than the hour. Any time spent fueling up, waiting to load and unload, attending to maintenance and repairs, and sitting in traffic is typically unpaid.

How Truck Driver Pay Can Factor into Safety

That unpaid non-driving time eventually adds up. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently estimated that time lost while waiting to pick up and drop off freight costs commercial truck drivers over $1 billion in annual pay.

According to the Truck Safety Coalition, these conditions only encourage long-haul truckers to drive longer and faster to make more money, even if doing so jeopardizes safety.

“The current regulation does not sufficiently protect these drivers, who should be afforded the same respect as other workers, work reasonable hours, and be permitted to have sleep patterns that are in accord with normal human needs,” the Coalition states. “Given these factors, it should not come as a surprise that the poor working conditions and low pay perpetuate the extremely high rate of truck driver turnover, which is above 90 percent.”

Truck Driver Pay Among Factors Driving Trucker Shortage

Truck driver pay is also among the factors behind a nationwide shortage of truckers.

According to a recent ATA survey, compensation ranked as the number one issue behind rising rates of dissatisfaction among company-employed truckers and third among all drivers. Truck drivers also ranked detention/delay at customer facilities among their top concerns.

When job dissatisfaction causes a seasoned truck driver to leave the industry, an inexperienced – and potentially less safe – driver often takes their place. While federal law has long mandated that interstate truck drivers be at least 21 years of age., the FMCSA recently established a pilot program to train up to 3,000 new underage truckers annually in hopes of mitigating the current shortage.

FMCSA Study Will Look at Link Between Trucker Pay and Safety

Research has long hinted at a link between truck driver compensation and safety.

In December 2019, for example, a paper published in Safety Science concluded that:

“. . . the rate of pay per mile driven, and employment-based health insurance, significantly decrease the probability of moving violations. The result provides support for the hypothesis that high compensation for drivers improve drivers’ safety performance, though other forms of compensation are not significantly related to the incidence of moving violations.”

Late last year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Coalition (FMCSA) launched a study into the impacts of various truck driver compensation methods on overall safety and retention rates. The initiative will include expert briefings, data gathering, and possibly case studies or interviews with relevant industry and academic experts.

Is It Time to Revamp Truck Driver Pay?

In the meantime, truckers suggest a simple fix: eliminate the loophole that allows the trucking industry to avoid paying its drivers overtime.

“The big guys get away with cheap labor because they don’t want to pay overtime. The big box shippers get away with detaining drivers because nobody charges them. The big carriers don’t charge the shippers because they don’t want to lose the freight,” Lewie Pugh, executive vice president for the Owner-Operator Independent Trucking Association, recently told FreightWaves.

The Guaranteeing Overtime for Truckers Act would repeal the motor carrier exemption that excludes company drivers from federal overtime protection. The proposed legislation has strong support within the Biden Administration, but opposition is fierce. The ATA is actively lobbying against passage, arguing the Act would force a revamp of a compensation structure that’s served the industry – i.e., trucking companies – well for decades while “likely resulting in no net change in the total compensation to truck drivers.”

Contact an Experienced Truck Accident Lawyer

Our 18-Wheeler Accident Lawyers have extensive experience representing those injured due to overworked, exhausted, and inexperienced truckers. Because trucking-related accidents often involve more severe injuries and multiple liable parties than a typical motor vehicle crash, you are less likely to have all of your damages covered by insurance. Our law firm has the resources and expertise to take on the trucking company attorneys and file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit on your behalf. To learn more, please contact us for a free consultation at 1-877-875- 2927.