Why Trucking Industry Practices Might Be Making Our Roads Less Safe

Maryland Truck Crash LawyerBeing a truck driver once ranked among the best jobs in the nation. The pay was good. The work was steady. Truck driver unions even carried a degree of political influence. But times have changed in an industry fraught with wage stagnation and high turnover rates, among other labor problems.

We drive alongside large trucks virtually every time we drive a major road, and we rarely think about the job requirements of those inside the big rigs. But we probably should. Around 4,000 fatal crashes involving heavy trucks happen every year in the United States. Most of those fatalities were the occupants of smaller vehicles, not the driver of the large truck.

You might not immediately connect the dots between truck driver pay and road safety, but the connection most certainly exists. The ways in which the trucking industry is failing its drivers are also failing everyone on our roads. Let’s look at some of the ways in which the job of a truck driver has changed over the years.

How Truck Drivers are Paid – and Why It Matters

For many drivers, their pay is essentially based on mileage. If a trucker isn’t moving, they aren’t earning. That’s a problem for truckers when they are idling in traffic, filling out paperwork or fueling up their trucks. The need to rack up as many miles as possible forces drivers to push the limit on federal rules governing how long a driver can be on the road. It also forces them to push themselves to the limits. This results in truck driver fatigue, which is a leading cause of truck crashes.

Not all drivers are paid by the mile. Some drivers are paid hourly or through a combination of mileage and time spent on other tasks. These different pay models are the subject of debate in the industry. But while that debate rages on, truckers are experiencing a stagnation of wages that has lasted for nearly four decades.

The average pay for a trucker in the United States is $40,000 per year. That’s a paltry sum when compared to what drivers used to earn. When adjusted for inflation, a trucker in 1980 was making the equivalent of more than $110,000 per year, according to one analysis.

Before the late 1970’s mass deregulation of the trucking industry, drivers often belonged to unions and experienced less turnover, higher pay and greater job stability. Today, truckers are often considered independent contractors, a change that, according to a great piece in the Atlantic, has shifted risks and costs away from shippers and onto drivers.

The trucking industry says that there is a massive truck driver shortage. The American Trucking Association said that in 2015, there were 48,000 fewer drivers than the industry needed in order to meet shipping demands. Some labor experts and driver advocates believe that the shortage is simply a byproduct of an environment where drivers are asked to do more for much less pay. Their argument is simple: If you need more drivers, you have to pay more money.

The Industry’s Proposed Solutions to Labor Shortages Might Present More Problems

While there is a debate over whether the driver shortage is self-inflicted by the trucking industry, the result is clear. Less pay and higher turnover rates mean fewer people want to drive a truck for a living. It also means that less-experienced drivers are finding themselves behind the wheel of a large truck. Trucking industry lobbyists want to lower age requirements to help address the shortage and they propose increasing the weight and size limits of trucks allowed on roads. Both ideas might save labor costs for shippers, but they would mean more dangerous roads for the rest of us.

Currently, a driver can get their commercial driver’s license at the age of 18, but they aren’t allowed to travel beyond their state’s boundaries until they reach the age of 21.

The ATA has long wanted to change that, and several proposals have been introduced by lawmakers to lower that federal age requirement. Critics of those proposals say that is a dangerous prospect. Drivers between the ages of 18 and 20 have significantly higher fatal crash rates than those 21 and older.

The industry also wants to change the restrictions on the size and weight of large trucks allowed on interstates. The 80,000-pound trucks that currently travel on interstates require nearly twice as much distance as passenger cars to come to a stop when traveling at 65 miles per hour. Heavier trucks would take even longer. They would also increase the wear and tear on our infrastructure, potentially creating more dangerous road conditions for other drivers.

The Industry Has Resisted Other Safety Regulations

While many fleets have adopted some safety technologies like automatic emergency braking, other technologies are not so quickly embraced. For example, installing side guards on all trucks would significantly reduce fatalities suffered in underride collisions, which occur when a smaller vehicle collides with the side of a truck and goes underneath the trailer. Safety advocates believe that lawmakers have not made these devices mandatory because of pressure from the trucking industry.

All of us want trucking to be as safe as possible. That means making the trucks safer and providing better working conditions for drivers. Trucking companies, too, have a vested interest in achieving these goals, but they are inevitably opposed to regulations that would hurt their profits. The trucking industry has a powerful lobby and much greater influence on lawmakers than drivers and safety advocates.

However, if we can raise awareness of these important issues and increase public support for laws that improve safety on our roads, then we can exert influence on lawmakers. It’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure that the trucks we share the road with pose as little threat as possible to other motorists and that the people driving those trucks are given the pay and protections they deserve.

Our firm has handled several cases involving large truck accidents. If you have questions or would like to schedule a free consultation, contact us today by filling out our online form or calling us at (410) 625-4878.