It's all about the money, but not the drivers?

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 11/6/2014

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is planning a study on the impact of driver compensation on commercial motor vehicle safety – without including drivers in the study.

The agency announced its planned study on Aug. 29 and requested comments from the public ahead of submitting the plan to the White House Office of Management and Budget for approval.

FMCSA says the study will evaluate the relationship between motor carrier compensation methods and incidences of unsafe driving. The research team would determine if there is a relationship between various methods of driver pay and safe driving behavior.

The agency’s plan for the study was to randomly select non-passenger motor carriers. The plan does not include seeking input from individual drivers.

While the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supports studying the correlation between driver compensation and safety, the Association is quick to call into question the agency’s logic in excluding drivers from the data collection phase of the study.

“This is something the agency should be looking at mainly because whether you know it intuitively or by looking at numbers, carriers that pay better have less driver turnover and they have fewer crashes. The safety performance of those carriers that pay better is in FMCSA’s database,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer told Land Line.

“It’s just incomprehensible that the agency would not have started by reaching out directly to the people most impacted by driver compensation issues, i.e. the driver. It’s absolutely mystifying.”

In its comments, OOIDA stated that drivers are the only respondents who have an opportunity to provide true insights into how motor carrier compensation policies actually manifest themselves on the highway as part of their job.

“For instance, the impacts of unpaid detention time may or may not show up in a carrier’s violation record … but a driver will surely be able to highlight the increased stress and other impacts due to this uncompensated time,” the comments state.

Spencer points out that the typical workweek of most American workers is in the area of 40 hours. It’s different in trucking: It’s a 70-hour week.

“When you understand that most drivers don’t receive anything for their time when they are working but not driving, it’s undoubtedly going to come into play in the decisions drivers are forced to make when it comes to driving and providing for their families,” Spencer said.

Spencer said the compensation practices coupled with the regulatory agenda of FMCSA put most drivers in a “can’t win” situation.

“The whole premise that many motor carriers want to operate on is ‘we’re going to pay piece work’ and then you have an agency and big carriers that are going to require or mandate that you work slow because it’s in the interest of safety. That simply defies logic,” Spencer said.

“If drivers aren’t fairly compensated for all of their time worked, then we wind up in the situation we have today when large amounts of the driver’s time are spent on a recurring basis working but not being compensated for it,” he said.

He said it only tracks that the large motor carriers who preach productivity virtues of electronic logging devices should value that productivity to the point that they pay for all the hours drivers work – driving and not driving.

But that’s generally not the case.

“While it’s a common practice, it’s not universal to all truckers. In those instances where drivers are compensated for all their time, they wind up being some of the better paid in the industry. And, of course, it goes without saying those companies that pay better end up crashing less.”

In the end, OOIDA supports a driver compensation study if it drills down to the various compensation schemes in the industry and hears about the realities of those various methods from the people it directly affects – drivers. Otherwise, Spencer says the study would be virtually useless.

Copyright © OOIDA