Job-Hopping Impacts Safety: FMCSA

by Katy de Vries

OTTAWA, Ont. – Driver job-hopping is taking a toll on more than just carrier recruitment and training budgets. It’s having a direct impact on safety.

There is a significant correlation between a truck driver’s job change rate and crash involvement, according to a study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The study, conducted last year as part of the FMCSA’s ambitious initiative to reduce the truck fatality rate by 41 per cent from 1996 to 2008, concluded that a commercial motor vehicle driver with two or more jobs had a higher risk of being involved in a crash than a driver with a more stable employment history.

For example, “if a driver had three or more jobs with different carriers in a year during an employment history that is two years or longer, the odds of being involved in a crash reached a level of more than twice as high as they are for drivers with lower job change rates,” explained David Longo, with public affairs for the FMCSA. “If we can improve driver retention, in theory and in hope, we will reduce the risk of crashes attributed to high driver turnover.”

The literature review identified six areas where specific changes have the potential to improve driver retention and safety, according to Longo.

These areas include: selection and hiring, driver training programs, dispatcher operations, working conditions for long-haul drivers, safety-related rewards and incentives and improving the perceptions of the profession.

Although the study was performed in the U.S., experts say the Canadian data would be similar.

“I think it’s consistent with the kinds of turnover patterns that we are seeing in Canada. It would probably be a safe bet to say, whether it is Canada or the U.S., the longer you can retain drivers through various means the more likely it is that they will be properly trained and feel a sense of belonging,” said Graham Cooper, senior vice-president for the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

If a driver is jumping from job to job, it doesn’t allow him enough time to learn the safety and training practices of one particular carrier, said Cooper. And if a driver has a substandard driving record it may be easier for him to get a job in today’s marketplace where there is such a demand for drivers, he added.

“Good carriers realize that if they are going to keep drivers they have to make sure they are well trained and they give them incentive to stay – whether it be through finances or support programs. So, even though drivers know it would be fairly easy for them to get another job, they don’t want to,” Cooper said.

There is currently much talk in the carrier community about what carriers need to do to retain drivers and what drivers need to do to be satisfied in their job, and these variables are common to both sides of the border, added Cooper.

As part of the FMCSA’s research, the National Association of Small Trucking Companies (NASTC) reported small trucking companies (fewer than 100 trucks) have lower turnover rates for a number of reasons:

Drivers have a more personal relationship with managers, dispatchers and owners.

Drivers appreciate the sense of ownership they get in the company operations and feel their opinion is valued.

The type of routes, customers and terminals smaller companies have allow drivers to get the miles they need and the amount of home time they want.

Smaller companies are better able to demonstrate driver appreciation through safe driving awards and are often team-based, which garners a support network among drivers.

“I think the good carriers out there think about this and implement tremendous programs for their drivers that include all of the turnover variables that the FMCSA report addresses. I think that those same good carriers are the ones with the low turnover rate and solid safety record and drivers find that this is the type of culture that those companies cultivate,” said Cooper.

The FMCSA found consistency among driver responses when they were asked to identify the characteristics of a good trucking company.

The most common variables mentioned were the quality and quantity of safety and training programs, the level of respect for and compliance with regulations and policies governing operations, the maintenance of clean facilities and working equipment and the recognition of drivers with good safety attitudes and driving records.

“What this tells me is that if a driver is treated well – the way the FMCSA study has determined that drivers with low churning rates are treated – the more likely that driver will stay with the company. The longer the driver stays in the company, the more he will become part of that company culture and if that culture is a safe one, it will mean something to him,” said Cooper.

The bottom line is that companies which invest in their drivers and upgrade the training and safety of their workforce will find their drivers involved in a lesser number of accidents, said Linda Gauthier, managing director for the CTHRC.

“By not investing in the drivers it puts pressure on them and where there is pressure, there is likely fatigue and probably a greater opportunity for more accidents,” said Gauthier.

Carriers who are satisfied with just hiring experienced drivers and assuming they have been trained properly may be assuming too much, warned David Goodwin, national director for safety and training for Markel Insurance Company of Canada.

A study conducted in the mid-’80s by the Bureau of Motor Carrier Statistics found that regardless of age and experience, it was the length of time drivers spent working for a carrier that had a significant correlation with the frequency of accidents they were involved in.

“Drivers, even experienced drivers, are at a greater likelihood of having a crash within the first six to nine months at a carrier and the reasoning was the lack of familiarity with routes, equipment, shippers, customers, terrain and just simply being in a new job,” said Goodwin.

This would seem to validate some of the FMCSA study’s findings.

Markel sees the same connection between job-hopping truck drivers and the number of accidents they are involved with in its contacts with customers, said Goodwin.

“We know anecdotally and intuitively that this correlation is present,” said Goodwin. “We see these drivers bounce around the industry from carrier to carrier.”

Markel inquires about this very phenomenon when doing safety and loss prevention audits with carriers.

“We believe it is important for carriers to start keeping driving retention records. We help our clients create these as well as forecast their anticipated turnover for the coming period. It is in the best interest of the carrier to acquire and maintain this information,” said Goodwin.

From an insurance perspective, a high rate of turnover within a carrier negates the quality of training that might have happened, if it was able to happen at all, prior to the driver having an accident.

This reinforces the conclusions of the FMCSA study, said Goodwin.

“The FMCSA study offers fairly positive things that carriers can do to increase driver retention and safety and it confirms my own opinion that the issue has always been about driver retention and not a shortage of qualified drivers,” Goodwin added.

To read the full FMCSA report, visit the following Web site:

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