Study: low pay, poor working conditions cause company drivers to quit

| 7/14/2006

Researchers at the University of Arkansas have discovered what many truck drivers already know: a combination of poor working conditions and pay problems leads to “high driver quit rates” in the trucking industry.

The study, conducted by researchers in the university’s Sam M. Walton College of Business, collected personnel information from executives and human resource directors at 326 “large” trucking companies and surveyed them regarding the reasons that drivers have given for quitting. The study said on average, the “large” companies “employed” about 65 drivers and that 57 percent of the companies surveyed were truckload carriers.   

The study cited an average driver quit rate among the companies surveyed of about 15 percent and a turnover rate of 28 percent.

Tom Weakley, director of operations for the OOIDA Foundation, pointed out that “quit rate” is different from driver turnover, which can include drivers leaving employment for other reasons than quitting. Weakley thought both numbers in the survey results were lower than industry standards.

“The numbers that were quoted in terms of driver turnover certainly are not compatible with the numbers that we get from ATA and the Truckload Carriers Association,” Weakley said. Statistics from the American Trucking Association’s recent data shows driver turnover in the industry as a whole at 130 percent.

Numbers aside, the university survey found that drivers for the companies who responded didn’t have as much of a problem with the amount they were paid as they did with how they were paid.

Nina Gupta, a professor of management at the university and one of the researchers on the study, said in a news release that, although no information was collected directly from drivers, information from the companies showed that the drivers didn’t feel they were getting enough time behind the wheel.

“It’s not that drivers are not paid enough per mile,” she said. “It’s the total number of miles that’s a problem. Many drivers are frustrated because they don’t have control over the number of miles they drive. Because they’re paid by the mile, they want to keep rolling. They don’t like it when they’re hundreds of miles from home and waiting for a new assignment.”

Gupta said the rate-per-mile system by which truckers are paid is not obsolete, but it does pose problems because it doesn’t give truckers control over their performance.

The study found that other factors influencing driver quit rates included problems with supervisors, lack of benefits such as pension plans, and lack of subjective annual performance appraisals.

The study also found that problems related to equipment, such as inferior cabs or low engine power, and physical working conditions, such as boredom and company requirements about driving speed, were less likely to influence a driver’s decision to quit.

Technology could play a significant role in driver quit rates in the future, depending on how it is used, the study found. However, Gupta said if computers are used only to monitor and control drivers, the number of drivers opting to quit could increase.

Also, if companies use technology to increase communication between drivers and dispatchers and drivers and their families, it could serve as a recruitment and retaining tool for many companies.

Weakley said that, although he agreed with some of the conclusions of the study, he wasn’t quite sure about the methodology.

“I’m a little suspect when they talk to HR people rather than the drivers,” he said. “Some of the things they said were obviously true, but I think they are a little out of touch with the trucking industry.”

– By Terry Scruton, senior writer