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December 10, 2018 3:00 PM, EST

Opinion: Promote Truck Driver Safety All Year — Not Just at the Holidays

It’s that time of year when we see a lot of information on how to promote safe driving during the holiday season.

While this increased diligence is helpful, it’s just as important to establish an environment for truck drivers that promotes safety all year-round. This should start well before drivers perform their pre-trip inspections or enter the truck cab.

John C. Wilbur Jr.

Wilbur

CEOs and managers of fleets and transportation companies should be asking themselves these questions:

• Have we put our drivers in a position where safety is their priority?

• Have we removed all of the concerns that may adversely affect a driver’s performance?

Safety during the holidays isn’t just about proper preparation, awareness of surroundings or driving techniques. Just as important are driver compensation, facilities and extended hours coverage. These topics are not traditionally associated with improving safety, but this needs to change.

Many trucking companies have aggressively boosted driver pay over the past year or two. These “cents-per-mile” increases are always directed at decreasing turnover and/or bolstering recruiting efforts. Rarely do you see a company increase driver pay — or, more importantly, modify the structure of driver compensation — to promote safety.

Mileage pay remains not only the most common form of driver compensation, but also the single biggest systemic flaw in our industry. It puts the burden of weather, traffic and freight squarely on truck drivers, all while chasing pay based on how many miles he travels instead of whether he gets the job done safely. This concern elevates during this time of year due to inclement weather and holiday traffic.

Recently, several companies have implemented — or at least experimented with — salary-based driver compensation plans. These changes remain directed toward mitigating turnover, but they’re also a positive step toward optimizing safety.

Ultimately, to address the industry’s driver shortage and safety record, a paradigm shift is needed at the C-suite level that promotes driver pay as a fixed cost instead of a variable cost. We need to focus on HOW we pay our drivers, not just HOW MUCH we pay our drivers.

Next, let’s focus on how the quality and comfort of our terminals and facilities can play a part in promoting a safe driving environment — not just during the holidays but all year.

Most companies put a lot of effort into providing a clean, comfortable and ergonomically constructive environment for their office staff. Yet that same level of care and investment isn’t always apparent in the remote, satellite or driver-oriented facilities that are used every day around the country.

At these locations, drivers are doing everything from showering and laundry to just getting some rest. They are living their life in these facilities. Why does our industry expect them to accept a lower level of comfort than we are willing to provide for ourselves and our office-bound peers? The quality of our facilities should be viewed as an opportunity to ensure that all drivers get in their truck feeling clean, rested and respected. That’s another way we can facilitate a focus on safety before they ever get behind the wheel.

Finally, another area where we can impact driver satisfaction and safety is with extended hours coverage, which is especially important during the holidays. However, too often this is overlooked when it comes to allocating corporate resources. We expect fleets to operate on a 24/7 basis, yet we don’t always provide adequate support on a 24/7 basis.

Whether it’s breakdown assistance or planning decisions, drivers require support 100% of the time they are on the road. When we fall short of that objective, we leave drivers feeling frustrated, disrespected and exhausted. Yet, we expect safety to be their top priority!

The importance of focusing on safe driving during the holidays shouldn’t be downplayed due to the unique conditions we encounter this time of year. Driver compensation and benefits and facilities and extended hours coverage aren’t typically the first things that come to mind when promoting safety, but they should definitely garner more attention.

It’s incumbent upon us to come up with solutions that foster a safety-first mentality among our professional drivers every day of the year.

John C. Wilbur Jr. is CEO of Arizona-based specialized transportation company the Roadmaster Group and Tri-State, its high-security transportation division.