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Why drivers stay

Nov. 4, 2021
Private fleets lead the industry in driver retention for several reasons, according to an NPTC survey. Perhaps first and foremost, these fleets generally pay more and offer better benefits, correlating to lower turnover and higher performance.

At a roundtable videoconference 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 turnoverHighlights 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 decadeGovernment 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 profitSecond, their main purpose is to achieve premium customer service at whatever the necessary costThird, 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 alternativesLike 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 oldThe 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 jobA driver’s average workweek is 54.5 hours. Driver turnover averages 15.8% for 2021. Private fleet drivers tend to stay for the long haulDriver retention averages around 10.5 years with the same employer. 

Better pay correlates with both lower turnover and higher safety performanceFleets 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 surveysAccording to FMCSA, the private fleet crash rate is roughly three times better than the overall trucking industry average. 

When a driver does leave, the reasons 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, and more home time all make the private fleet driver job among the most desirable in the industryNot all the work is drivingAbout one-third of a private fleet driver’s workday is performing non-driving tasks.  

strong in-house support system to help drivers succeedtransparency 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. As NPTC’s Benchmarking Survey Report concludes, “One of the reasons driver turnover and retention remain so positive can be attributed to the fact that private fleets are highly selective about whom they choose to put behind the wheel.” 

About the Author

Gary Petty

Gary Petty has more than three decades of experience as a CEO of national trade associations in the trucking industry. Since 2001, he has served as president and CEO of the National Private Truck Council, the national trade association founded in 1939, representing the private motor carrier industry. Petty is the Private Fleet Editor and columnist for FleetOwner, where he writes monthly articles about successful managers and business models in the private fleet market.

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