Drivers need Incentives Not Safety Bonuses

This past week I participated in an online discussion regarding driver safety bonuses. The people participating were all safety trucking professionals. I was the only voice to express the view that I didn’t like safety bonuses. I think I shocked many of the other participants.

Why am I against driver safety bonuses? There are a couple reasons I think that paying a driver a safety bonus is the wrong approach. The first reason is that I believe there is a better way to give drivers an incentive and secondly, I don’t believe we should pay anyone a bonus for doing the job that we hired him or her to do. Did we not hire a professional driver to drive collision and violation free? Every time a driver gets a violation, ticket, or is involved in a collision, are they not going against everything that a professional driver and trucking company stands for?

So I don’t believe in driver safety bonuses! But I do believe very strongly in incentives. Many companies outside of the trucking industry offer their employees “profitsharing”. Why is the trucking industry so different? Why are we not looking to other industries for great ideas?

Here’s how I think a trucking company could give a driver a bonus and encourage him/her to stay longer with the organization. After all, isn’t one of the goals of the bonus to improve driver retention? What if we paid the driver profit-sharing? In the trucking industry it is a little more complicated but I do believe that we have the technology to make this process fairly simple. A colleague of mine once said that each truck “is a profit center”. I believe that! If each truck is making a profit then can we share some of the profit with the driver who operates the vehicle?

So how might this work? With engine technology and our computer systems the way it is today we should be able to identify each truck and its profitability. For example, if a driver does a thorough and complete vehicle inspection before leaving the yard for his trip and finds a defect on the vehicle and gets it repaired before leaving the yard, hasn’t the driver contributed to the vehicle’s profitability? After all it is significantly less expensive to have the vehicle defect fixed in the yard than it would have been on the road. That’s one example of how a driver can positively affect profitability. The second example may be fuel efficiency. We all know that there are several ways that you can operate a vehicle and affect its overall performance. A driver who has good shifting technique and is relaxed and patient on the road usually gets better fuel economy than those drivers who are constantly in a hurry. This again contributes to profitability as well as reduced maintenance costs. Another example could be route planning. For the long-haul driver there are many different ways to get to his/her destination. If you are paying a driver by the mile they most often will take the shortest route. That shortest route however may not be the most fuel efficient or safest route. By giving the operator a portion of the profits, the driver would be encouraged to take the most profitable route.

There are several more examples that could be cited as to how a truck can be more profitable. But the idea of this article today is to get you to think how this might be applied to your company and to your drivers. I firmly believe that a profitable truck is also a very safe truck and isn’t that at least one of the goals of the bonus; to encourage the operator to be safe, without violations and to make the truck profitable? I would love to hear your feedback on this article.

About Chris Harris, Safety Dawg

Chris has been involved in trucking most of his adult life. He drove truck for and worked in various office/management positions for a major truck company. His last position of 5 years in the safety department where he was responsible for the recruiting of Owner Operators and their compliance. He joined a trucking insurance company in 2001 and has been in the insurance side of things until making Safety Dawg a full-time endeavour.