Many folk here in Indiana and Illinois drive alongside big rigs, semi trucks, and those long 18-wheeler tractor trailer trucks on congested highways like the Borman Expressway without thinking about how dangerous any kind of accident might be with one of these heavy, fully-loaded commercial trucks. When there is a collision between a big rig semi truck carrying cargo and a smaller sedan, or SUV, or minivan, that smaller car usually gets the worst of it. All too often, someone dies in a truck crash.
Which is why there are all sorts of regulations at both the state and federal level regarding the trucking industry. The routes that the trucks can drive is regulated, for example. How many hours the tractor-trailer truck can be driven before the truck driver takes a break is regulated by “hours of service” (HOS) rules under federal law.
However, one thing that is still being debated that might make the roads much safer for all of us — including the truck drivers — is changing how most of these truck drivers are paid.
Many are arguing that it is time that laws be passed to make trucking companies pay the truck drivers by the hour. The driver would get an hourly rate, just like construction workers or nurses or some lawyers, for that matter.
This is because right now in the United States, most truck drivers are paid by the mile driven, not by the hour they spend behind the wheel. Truck drivers that are paid by the mile have an incentive to speed to cover more miles because miles = money.
1. Factors in How Truck Drivers Are Paid
Truck drivers get paid based upon a number of factors. These include things like the type of truck they’re driving, and the years of experience they have behind the wheel. Truckers who are driving vehicles that have a gross truck weight at or over 26,001 lbs are considered to be driving “heavy trucks” and they get paid more.
Truckers with a Class B commercial driver’s license don’t earn the same as a truck driver with a Class C CDL. Hazardous cargo? The truck driver gets paid more. Hazardous route – like Alaska? Ditto.
2. The Argument that Paying Truck Drivers By the Mile is Dangerous
In a recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, the argument is made that changing how the majority of truckers are paid to by-the-hour from by-the-mile would not only make the roads safer for all of us, but it would encourage people to become truck drivers.
Right now, there is a big shortage of people willing to enter the profession of driving these heavy, big commercial trucks. It’s a real issue for the trucking industry, this lack of truck drivers – especially for the heavy trucks and long truck routes. If truck drivers could have the security of knowing they were being paid by the hour, then the argument is more applicants might come forward to learn how to be big rig drivers.
And these truckers wouldn’t have the financial temptations to ignore federal HOS rules, etc., to keep driving when they shouldn’t just to get those miles. Roads would be safer because no longer would the trucker’s incentive be to tally up their mileage because miles = money and time at rest is time they’re not being paid.
Will There Be a Federal Law to Make Hourly Pay the Standard for Trucker Pay?
Last year, Senator Cory Booker introduced a bill in Congress that would make it federal for truck drivers to be paid by the hour. The Senator is reported to have been inspired to draft the legislation after the fatal truck crash involving famed comedian Tracy Morgan in New Jersey.
Additionally, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has started the process of formally studying the possibility of paying truck drivers by the mile. In February, FMCSA reportedly was submitting a plan for a study on “the impact of driver compensation on commercial motor vehicle safety” to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and asked for comments on its proposal. For the full text, see the Federal Register published February 4, 2015.
“The study will evaluate the relationship between property carrying motor carriers compensation methods and incidences of unsafe driving,” explains the FMCSA. “In particular, the research team will determine if there is a potential relationship between method of driver compensation and safe driving behavior.”
With efforts being made in both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, movement is being made to change the industry standard for how truck drivers are paid in the United States. This will be advanced as a means of making Americans safer on the roads; however, we can expect the trucking industry to fight against this major change just as they fought against the HOS Rule changes. For the trucking companies, paying by the mile is better for their bottom line and it’s working just fine for them.