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October 2021

Why Drivers Stay

Each month NPTC President and CEO Gary Petty writes a column in Fleet Owner magazine that focuses on the individuals, companies, best practices, and resources that make private trucking the force that it is in the American economy. Reaching more than 100,000 subscribers, three-quarters of whom are private fleet professionals, this column provides an excellent forum to communicate the value of the private fleet. Click here to view the archive.

Gary Petty | | Private Fleet Editor for FleetOwner Magazine
Gary Petty has more than 30 years of experience as CEO of national trade associations in the trucking industry. He has been the president and CEO of the National Private Truck Council since 2001.

Private fleets are highly selective about whom they choose to put behind the wheel.

At a roundtable videoconference held this summer to discuss truck driver recruitment and retention hosted by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, and FMCSA Deputy Administrator Meera Joshi, NPTC provided the council’s perspective on why private fleets have the lowest annual driver turnover in the industry. Participants included safety advocates, trucking industry associations, drivers, academics, and organized labor.

Speakers were asked to identify best practices and solutions impacting driver turnover. Highlights of NPTC’s comments are summarized below and include data reported in the council’s 2021 Benchmarking Survey Report published in August.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), increasing truck driver turnover rates are compounding supply chain disruptions, which likely will grow worse as the industry will need an estimated 1.1 million new drivers over the next decade. Government figures show an average 90% annual turnover for large long-haul carriers and 72% for smaller carriers. For private fleets, the running average for 15 consecutive years is 14.25%.

Private fleets lead the industry in driver retention for several reasons. First, they operate on a fundamentally different business model compared to for-hire trucking. Most are not designed to make a profit. Second, their main purpose is to achieve premium customer service at whatever the necessary cost. Third, their companies make significant, long-term investments to get the best drivers, equipment, and fleet management to provide optimal customer service as well as capacity on demand and cost control.

These investments help ensure their products will reliably reach customers on time, safely, and with efficiently executed deliveries, often at a lower overall cost than outside carrier alternatives. Like all successful businesses, profit for the company is essential but not necessarily expected or even practical in a well-run private fleet. Accordingly, 77% of private fleets operate as cost centers and 23% as profit centers.

Private fleets spend $7,500 to bring a driver on board and over $20,000 for a hazardous materials driver. They screen an average of 19.7 candidates to fill one driver position and take 35.7 days to complete the process. The minimum age for new hires is officially 21.6 years old, but in fact the actual average age of new hires is about 40 years old. The average age of all full-time drivers is 50 years old.

Driver annual pay averages $75,796 (plus 23.5% of compensation added in driver benefits) and typically includes pay for all parts of the job. A driver’s average workweek is 54.5 hours. Driver turnover averages 15.8% for 2021. Private fleet drivers tend to stay for the long haul. Driver retention averages around 10.5 years with the same employer.

Better pay correlates with both lower turnover and higher safety performance. Fleets with a higher turnover pay their drivers less than do those with a lower turnover, averaging $69,200 versus $73,800. Fleets with a lower turnover invest more money in the onboarding process—about $2,000 more per driver.

Lower turnover fleets have a lower-than-average DOT recordable crash rate, 0.45 versus 0.51 crashes per million miles for fleets with higher turnover. This year’s reported private fleet crash rate of 0.45 is the lowest DOT recordable crash rate in the history of NPTC benchmarking surveys. According to FMCSA, the private fleet crash rate is roughly three times better than the overall trucking industry average.

When a driver does leave, the rea-sons include taking another driving job (40%), retirement (22%), discipline (22%), and taking another job outside of trucking (6%). Turnover rate is highest among those drivers who have been working the longest.

A pro-driver culture and reputation for being an employer of choice, better working conditions, more stable work, predictable workloads, preferred routes and products, more home time all make the private fleet driver job among the most desirable in the industry. Not all the work is driving. About one-third of a private fleet driver’s workday is performing non-driving tasks.

A strong in-house support system to help drivers succeed, transparency of management, an open door to driver’s concerns, and driver reward and recognition programs contribute as well to a private fleet driver’s sense of permanency and belonging.

Finding the right fit from the start is first and foremost in predicting retention.

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