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THE BASEMENT FILES: Research that should be filed but NOT forgotten


I dread the last two weeks of December. That’s when I force myself to my basement office to sift through and clean up the mountain of paper that naturally accumulates when one is involved with 8 to 10 major national transportation studies a year (as I am as head of Transportation Media Research) and responsible for tracking another 30-50 studies conducted by independent research firms.
The task was particularly important this year because, well, two years ago I said I would get to it next year and then when the time came I decided a trip dodging alligators in Florida’s Everglades National Preserve was a better way to spend my time. It was, but now I had three years of cleaning to do, an inescapable fact made all the more evident by the fact so many studies had accumulated they could no longer be fit on the large bookcase in the back and had spilled in piles all over the floor.
After a week spent going through everything, I had enough reports ready for the dumpster that it will require a separate trip to the town dump, which I guess tells you something about the quality of some of the research being conducted on transportation these days. But amidst all the projections that proved far from accurate and the forecasted trends that didn’t quite materialize I found a few old reports I could not throw out. They were gems that, in fact, made the whole exercise worthwhile.
I would like to tell you about a few of them over the next few blog entries.
The first one that I would like to tell you about was conducted a few years ago for the Truckload Carriers Association in conjunction with the Recruiting Resource Center. It caught my attention right away because it looked at driver turnover in a different but very important way. I have tons of studies from recent years examining driver turnover but it’s always from the carrier’s point of view – why drivers leave, the cost to the carrier when they do, and how to retain them. But this study looked at the issue from the driver’s perspective, examining how much it costs the average driver to skip from job to job.
Although it’s US research, and obviously a bit dated, I think the approach and its conclusions are worth considering.
The study gathered information about benefits, policies and recruiting statistics from about 140 carriers of varying sizes and then applied the data to driver turnover losses to create a realistic cost to an average driver over a 30-year period.
The study assumed that the average driver was earning 30.5 cents a mile when starting a new job and moved up to 33 cents per mile after three years with the company. It also assumed that he averaged 9,028 miles per month.
Looking at traditional turnover rates, it assumed the average driver would change jobs 8 times during a 30-year career. What would be the financial impact of that on the driver?
Hang on to your pocketbook. It’s about to get a lot lighter.
The study calculated the average driver would be unemployed four months throughout their career for non-compensated time off associated with job changes. Cost of that: $11,014.16.
It also calculated the average driver would be without medical coverage (or uncovered medical expenses) for 21 months. Cost of that: $3,696.00. Obviously that may be more of an issue in the US than in Canada, thanks to our universal medical coverage, but there are many medical bills such as dental and eye care which we rely heavily on company coverage.
And it calculated the average driver skipping from job to job would lose 84 months of eligibility in pension plans. Cost of that: $115,000, which the study’s authors said was a “very conservative” figure.
Put it all together and the cost of changing jobs 8 times during a 30-year career amounts to $129,710.16. Or, put another way, the cost of a significant downpayment on a house in a major city, almost the entire cost of a house in many smaller towns, or the cost of a brand new rig with most of the bells and whistles you need.
And there were other potential losses too, such as loss of miles and not being considered for dedicated runs or non-driving positions due to lack of seniority; loss of paid vacation time; and loss of insurance for dependents.
Now, I’ve commissioned enough surveys and studies myself to know that often there is an agenda (sometimes hidden, sometimes not) behind most research. And there is clearly an agenda with this study, commissioned by a carrier organization. In the words of the study’s authors it is “hoped that if company drivers knew the financial damages they are causing themselves, they would option to stay at a company longer.”
I’m certainly not suggesting drivers shouldn’t change jobs if there is good reason or need to do so. An extra $5,000 in your pocket over a 30-year career does wipe out the $129,000 loss mentioned above and add some. And if there is a part of your job you absolutely can’t stand, well, no job is worth an ulcer.
What I am suggesting is that switching jobs is a decision that should be given a great deal of consideration because over the long run it can hurt your pocketbook. As the study points out, in a typical driving career, job switching costs the driver in excess of 5 cents on every mile driven.


Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis

With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics.
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