Modernized Trucks Aid in Driver Retention

By Katerina Jones

Heavy-duty fleet organizations face persisting difficulties in the retention and recruitment of drivers, a situation exacerbated by the severe need for drivers in the shipment of goods, food, medicines and COVID-19 vaccines throughout the country.

For carriers, driver turnover has increased by double-digit percentages during the third quarter of 2020, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA). This took place even as the industry began to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.   

Because of the tight market for drivers, retention is even more crucial in today’s economy. Recently, Columbus, Indiana-based ACT Research, which specializes in commercial-vehicle and transportation market analysis and forecasting, announced its latest For-Hire Trucking Index, in which the driver-availability index dropped significantly to 16.7 in March, down from its previous low of 23.6 in February. 

 Driver Turnover Rates Remain High 

According to the latest data, the annualized turnover rate for truckload carriers with more than US$30 million in annual revenue increased to 92 percent during the third quarter of 2020. For smaller carriers, the turnover rate increased to 74 percent.  

ATA chief economist Bob Costello, in a 2020 press release, said: “After a calamitous second quarter, trucking — along with the rest of the economy — began recovering in the third quarter, leading to a tightening of the driver market. With a more robust freight market, an increase in carriers seeking drivers led to increased turnover. Additionally, the driver pool has decreased this year for a host of reasons, including fewer new drivers coming into the industry as truck driver training schools train less drivers due to social distancing requirements.”  

Although it would be easy to place blame on COVID-19, the turnover problem isn’t new: It has been developing for several years. According to Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry, a 2020 report by the Arlington, Virginia-based American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), driver shortage has been the trucking industry’s leading concern for the four years in a row.  

Driver shortages also continue to be a primary concern for private fleet organizations, even though the numbers are not as extreme as for-hire carriers. The latest benchmarking report from National Private Truck Council (NPTC), an Arlington, Virginia-based trade association, demonstrates that driver turnover continues to increase, reaching almost 18.5 percent in 2020. In 2019, private fleets reported turnover of 16.9 percent, which is up from the previous year’s 15.4-percent average turnover.  

 Onboarding New Drivers Can Be Pricey 

The average price of onboarding a new driver can often exceed $10,000. Compensation programs often are considered as a way to attract new drivers in and keep existing ones. However, organizations with private fleets and for-hire carriers have developed alternative strategies for retaining their current drivers to avoid paying the costly on-boarding expense and improve retention. One is investing in new trucks.

New trucks have newer technology and advanced safety features, helping them require less maintenance and repair, which means less downtime and breakdowns on the side of the road — and more peace of mind for the drivers. Advanced safety features, which offer comfort as well, include:

  • Air-ride suspension 
  • Automated manual transmission 
  • Increased engine horsepower and speed settings 
  • Lane departure warning system
  • Collision mitigation 
  • Adaptive cruise control 
  • Blind-spot monitoring 
  • Roll stability. 

Fleets realize a significant ROI when more of these trucks are placed into service. The cost for all safety equipment (including collision avoidance, disc brakes, lane change, and electronic stability control) decreases overall collision repairs, and yields a return on the original safety technology investment in around 18 months. When combined with savings generated from not having to onboard new drivers, the savings are significant.

When more fleets and transportation organizations switch older trucks with newer, safer equipment, their driver retention rates will increase, their drivers — and others on the roads — will be safer, and they’ll also enjoy substantial savings due to reduced accident costs as well as lower maintenance and repair expenditures.

About the Author

Katerina Jones

About the Author

Katerina Jones is senior director of marketing and business development at Fleet Advantage, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based innovator in truck fleet business analytics, equipment financing and life-cycle cost management.