Is There a Link Between a Truck Driver’s Pay and Driver Safety?

In September 2002, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration sponsored a study to examine the link between truck driver pay and safety. This comprehensive study, written by Michael Belzer, Associate Professor of the College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs at Wayne State University, suggests that low driver pay may be an important predictor of truck driver safety.

The study found that for drivers paid 20 cents per mile had a positive incentive to work an average of 48.9 hours a week. This incentive went up to 60.1 hours per week at 25 cents per mile and 65.1 hours per week at 31.4 cents per mile. However, at higher pay levels, the preference for more work hours declined to 59.9 hours per week at 37.8 cents per mile and 50.6 hours per week at 42.1 cents per mile.

This study went on to demonstrate that for every 10% increase in driver compensation, the carriers experienced 9.2% fewer crashes. However, this effect was not solely attributable to the pay raise since individuals receiving the pay raise tended to be safer than other individuals.

Another safety study evaluated as part of this report showed data which demonstrated that a 10% increase in the mileage rate from 29.5 cents per mile to 32.4 cents per mile reduced the probability of a crash from 13.8% to 10.86%. Also, this study found that increasing the number of paid days off also reduced the risk of a crash by 7%.

The study concluded that the results were consistent with economics since most carriers paid drivers according to their market value. Market value is determined by employment history, driving record, training and experience. It was concluded that safety outcomes were likely related to different individual characteristics for which drivers are paid differently.

In summary, the study predicts that the relationship between safety and pay is as low at a 2:1 ratio and as high as 1:4. Higher pay will lead to a greater safety record by drivers, which directly impacts overall production for the firm for which they drive. These results spread out over a large trucking firm could mean substantial savings in lives and property loss through improved safety.