I read a study this weekend (my wife was at a jewelry party and my kids were asleep on Friday night) published last year by the Cornell University Industrial & Labor Relations Review, that looked at the correlation between truck driver compensation and safety outcomes.
I am sure the Teamsters embraced the results of the study: increases in truck driver compensation led to fewer crashes. It is unclear whether the improvement in the drivers’ safety records resulted from more careful driving or other related behavioral adjustments, but the strength of the data was remarkable.
Why is there a correlation between compensation and a decrease in these dangerous wrecks? I’m not sure that we can devise a study to prove driver motivations, but it makes sense that the more you are paid, the more likely you are to want to do the things you have to do to keep your job. It seems logical that paying truck drivers well serves as a counterbalance to the lure of engaging in risky behaviors – such as speeding and driving without proper rest – to drive further to make a decent wage. Better paid drivers may cause fewer truck accidents because more pay means better retention, which leads to more experienced operators on our nation’s highways.
Another interesting finding was that the relationship between crash risk and the driving experience was U-shaped. Truck accidents increased both at low levels and top levels of experience. The authors believe that this finding lends support to the importance of driver retraining programs. This might be true, although I suspect that older drivers may be less able to make the adjustments necessary to avoid truck accidents.
This study seems to tell us that one way to reduce these collisions would be to require minimum wages for truck drivers. This is not a simple solution because it would increase the cost of shipping, which would increase the cost of manufactured goods. But when you consider that one out of every eight fatal traffic accidents involves a truck, it might be a cost worth bearing.