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 results of the study were embraced by the Teamsters: increases in truck driver compensation led to less crashes. It is unclear whether the improvement in the drivers’ safety records was the result of more careful driving or other related behavioral adjustments, but the strength of the data was pretty remarkable.
Why is there a correlation between compensation and a decrease in these dangerous wrecks? I’m not sure that a study can be devised 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 – in order to drive further to make a decent wage. Moreover, better paid drivers may cause less 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 driving experience was U-shaped. In other words, truck accidents increased both at low levels and high levels of experience. The authors believe that this finding lends support to the importance of driver re-training 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 an easy solution because it would increase the cost of shipping, which would increase the cost of manufactured goods in this country. But when you consider that one out of every eight fatal traffic accidents involves a truck, it might be a cost worth bearing.