Driver incentive programs can generate valuable dividends

by David Goruk

Everyone likes to be rewarded for a job well done. Truck drivers are no exception. It is why fleets invest in bonuses for everything from better fuel economy to improved out-of-service records, or take the time to recognize individual milestones with patches, jackets and framed certificates.

It is also why fleets can expect these investments to generate real financial returns.

A well-planned incentive program focuses employees on specific goals and helps to reach a number of money-saving targets. The dollars that are paid out in bonuses for a drop in out-of-service violations, for example, could easily be offset by returns in the form of fewer delays, lower on-road repair costs and reduced fines.

The goals themselves will vary from one fleet to the next, but they are usually identified by taking a careful look at existing records. Carrier profiles are a popular source of information about issues such as hours-of-service violations, while data from engine Electronic Control Modules can measure the potential to improve fuel economy. And insurance providers can offer some guidance of their own.

Regardless of the benchmarks that are being set, however, most successful programs tend to measure drivers against their past performance rather than the work of their peers. The realities of trucking simply make it too difficult to compare one driver to the next. The same fuel economy target that is easily met by a Saskatchewan trucker with a 20,000-lb payload may seem impossible for a co-worker who is hauling 40,000-lb payloads through mountainous terrain.

There will always be a distinct difference between a “stretch goal” that encourages drivers to improve, and a target that employees couldn’t reach in their wildest dreams.

The secrets to success are not limited to reasonable benchmarks, either. The entire process is about helping drivers to succeed, and ensuring that they have the support to reach their goals. A fleet that wants to offer a bonus for a clean logbook will need to take a close look at its existing dispatch system to ensure that it is designed to meet the related hours-of-service rules. And those that want to limit out-of-service violations may need to explore the way that maintenance departments are addressing equipment repairs.

The amount of the incentives themselves will vary depending on a fleet’s budget and will usually be based on the size of potential returns – some of which may be larger than they initially seem. After all, the idea of paying a driver $15 to replace a burnt-out headlight may seem absurd until it is measured against the price of an out-of-service violation, a mechanic’s on-road inspection and all of the related delays in a shipment.

The rewards themselves don’t even need to be limited to cash. Any driver would wear a million-mile crest with pride, a $5 gift card for a coffee shop will be appreciated by coffee lovers everywhere, and who wouldn’t want to see a certificate in the dispatch room that recognizes a month of perfect logbooks? At the very least, a decision to separate a reward from a regular paycheque will offer the chance to remind drivers what an incentive is for, and how it continues to be earned.

One fleet discovered the added advantage of distributing grocery store gift cards to drivers who avoided out-of-service violations. Whenever an employee failed to earn the card, the fleet office could usually count on a spouse to call and ask what happened. That presented another chance to talk to family members about the features and benefits of a safe driving initiative. Maybe there should be little surprise that drivers tended to meet their objectives in the months that

As important as the individual rewards may be, the timing of any payouts will also play their own role in the ongoing success of a program. For example, a driver who is involved in a minor collision early in the year might be discouraged by the idea that they will miss out on the entire annual safety bonus that is only paid out at the end of the year. For their part, fleets can find monthly payments to be an administrative nightmare, particularly since many of the related reports may not be generated quickly enough to support the program. That’s why most successful programs tend to be based on quarterly reports.

When all these factors are considered, fleets can discover that the investments in a well structured incentive program will pay dividend for years to come.

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