Driver Hiring Practices

By Senior Loss Control Specialist Jonathan Lee

Effectively screening applicants and making smart hiring decisions is critical, particularly for trucking companies, where the results of making a poor hiring decision can be catastrophic. Fatalities resulting from transportation-related accidents are the leading cause of occupational fatalities. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the costs of motor vehicle accidents can range from tens of thousands of dollars for property-damage accidents, to millions of dollars for those resulting in fatalities.

For several years now, there has been an extreme driver shortage across the country. The American Trucking Association estimated the industry was short by approximately 60,000 drivers during early 2020. While the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily halted this issue, there are concerns this number may be even higher post-pandemic as many drivers choose to leave the industry. Turnover rates in the trucking industry consistently hover around 100%, which means oftentimes companies have equipment worth well over $100,000 sitting idly in their parking lot, while at the same time the operations team is refusing valuable freight.

What does all of this mean? Many fleet managers are constantly trying to apply a cost/benefit analysis to the decision of whether or not to hire a driver. The longer a truck sits, the less revenue a company will earn. If multiple trucks are parked in the yard without drivers, the losses are magnified, which in turn, increases the pressure to hire drivers. However, a poor hiring decision has the potential to cost the company thousands, if not millions of dollars—not only due to the direct costs associated with an accident, but also lost revenue, negative publicity and the administrative expenses of managing regulatory and potential legal ramifications.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recognizes the importance of only allowing properly licensed and qualified drivers to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) and has established minimum qualifications that drivers must meet. Among other criteria, a driver is qualified if he/she:

  • Has a valid CMV operator’s license for the type of vehicle operated
  • Can safely operate the CMV with relevant experience, training or both
  • Is physically qualified to operate a CMV
  • Has successfully completed a driver’s road test

Employers must also verify the drivers they employ are qualified and can do so by maintaining an accurate Driver Qualification file for each driver. The Driver Qualification file must include items such as:

  • A driver application with 10 years of driving history and three years of complete employment history
  • A three-year record of motor vehicle accidents and driving violations
  • A valid medical examiner’s certificate
  • An annual review of the driver’s motor vehicle record (MVR)
  • Verification of a “good faith effort” to confirm the driver’s employment history for the preceding three years where the applicant operated a CMV

In addition, all CMV drivers must pass a pre-employment drug test before they can perform a safety-sensitive function or, in other words, operate a CMV.

While all of this may sound like a lot, keep in mind these are the bare minimums required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for a company to put a driver behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound vehicle. Companies are required to review a driver’s MVR annually, but unless the driver’s license is suspended or revoked, the company can decide to hire the driver even if he/she does have 15 speeding tickets on their record. And, although an employment verification may reveal the applicant had an unacceptable safety record, multiple accidents and excessive violations, there’s nothing that says the prospective employer isn’t allowed to hire the driver. In addition, there currently is no minimum requirement noting the amount of experience a driver must have, leading some companies to hire drivers directly from a truck driving school with zero real-world experience.

Unfortunately, many companies are satisfied with meeting the bare minimum guidelines and making a poor hiring decision as they feel the reward of hiring a driver with a questionable record outweighs the risk. “Can’t make money if the wheels aren’t turning” is a common saying in the industry. However, some companies are learning that poor hiring decisions can not only have negative financial implications but can also impact the fleet’s safety record as well as the overall culture of the organization. Rather than lowering their hiring standards and hiring drivers with questionable safety performance, they are instead being more selective with who receives an offer of employment and focusing their efforts on keeping the drivers they’ve hired.

It has been estimated that the cost of hiring a driver can range from $5,000 to $10,000 (a 20-year old study came up with $8,234 per driver). So not offering a job to anyone who walks in the door can make sound financial sense, particularly if companies are redirecting the money previously spent on recruiting and hiring toward employee retention activities. Safety-focused, dependable drivers are the type of employees a company wants to keep, and spending money on keeping them happy can be well worth it. This may be in the form of safety or performance bonuses, incentives, above average pay, highly competitive benefits, newer equipment, opportunities for open-door communication, feature-rich driver break rooms, obtaining routes that allow increased home time and many other factors. A common theme in companies who have better-than-average retention rates is the fact that they listen to their drivers. What are their needs? What concerns them? What could be better about the company? Are they happy with their route/truck/dispatcher? Do they feel they are a valuable part of the organization?

Companies that ask these types of questions and make the effort to address driver needs typically have lower turnover rates, which can in turn have a positive impact on company culture, operational efficiency, and most importantly, the safety performance of the organization.

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