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Tapping technology to improve driver retention

Technology can help improve driver retention by allowing fleets to incentivize drivers. ( Photo: Shutterstock )

Commentary. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves.


As the trucking industry faces a driver shortage, fleet managers are tasked not only with hiring the right employees, but ensuring they stay for the long haul. According to the American Trucking Associations’ recent Trucking Activity Report, the annual turnover at large truckload carriers—fleets worth more than $30 million—increased to 94% in 2017. With the average cost to replace a truck driver being $12,000, fleets are forced to find a solution quickly.

In addition to drivers deciding to leave a fleet to seek higher pay or a position that allows them to be home each night, fleets terminate drivers for a variety of reasons including involvement in a collision or in response to a complaint about their driving. Without good information—and context—fleets risk letting good drivers go. There’s no panacea or quick fix to solve the driver turnover challenge, but fleets are wise to explore how technology can reduce attrition by supporting driver incentive and reward programs, and making drivers’ lives easier.

A driver incentive program, which not only prompts drivers to make smarter and safer driving decisions, but also promotes driver happiness, is one way to increase driver retention. Successful fleets train drivers regularly, and reward drivers on a monthly basis—ensuring they develop and retain top performers. Rewards can take many forms—monetary, time off, branded gear, etc.—incentivizing desired behaviors and demonstrating driver recognition and appreciation. A well-executed driver incentive program can provide considerable return on investment as a result of improved driver safety and reduced accidents, all while enhancing recruitment and retention. After all, drivers are integral to a fleet’s success—with cash or non-monetary rewards, carriers can ensure drivers remain happy and focused on the job.

Managers should consider adopting an awards program. In addition to cross-department buy-in, a successful in-house awards program should include clear objectives, incorporate driver feedback and an effective communication plan. By setting the right metrics and targets for drivers, fleet managers can objectively measure driver performance. Comparisons to previous time periods, other drivers’ performance or even a contest between terminal locations can lead to friendly competition that engenders additional program buy-in. Performance metrics are also a key way for fleets to clearly communicate what’s important to their drivers. SmartDrive’s SmartIQ® Driver Scorecard does just that, offering fleets industry-proven, data-driven insights based on comprehensive and insightful data so as to ensure statistical relevance, enabling fleet managers to better manage their driver incentive and award programs. It’s vital for fleets to use fair and consistent measurement methodology to accurately assess driver performance when utilizing an awards program. For example, only looking at DMV records that track collisions and tickets will not give fleets enough information to sufficiently gauge a driver’s performance. 

Never before have fleets had so much advanced technology available to enhance efficiency, reduce risk and improve the bottom line. For example, video-based safety solutions provide actionable data to help coach drivers to reduce unsafe driving behaviors, and also help exonerate drivers when they are not at fault in a collision. Transportation Management Software assists fleets with routing and scheduling optimization, while electronic logging devices simplify compliance with hours of service rules and reduce manual record keeping. The accelerating progression toward autonomy presents new opportunities, with today’s Level 1 autonomous systems, such as active braking and adaptive cruise control, which are intended to help drivers adapt to the changing environment. By automating previously manual functions, improving safety, reducing paperwork burdens and delivering real-time information, technology can play a significant role in improving driver quality of life, which, in turn can increase retention.

With the rapid evolution toward highly automated commercial vehicles (HACVs), implications for fleets and drivers cannot be overlooked. Hub-and-spoke routing will become more prevalent, and autonomous vehicles would likely take the longer, easier portions of the route, with drivers completing the shorter, more complex portions of routes. As a result, drivers could potentially be home each night with their families. With greater efficiency within the transportation system, more money could be available for increased driver pay or funding of award programs. Furthermore, increased automation means drivers’ roles are shifting—fleets will need to help the driver transition into their new role. This brings a new challenge to drivers, keeping them interested and engaged in the job.

Whatever the headlines surrounding the autonomous movement, it’s important to remember drivers have, and will retain, a vital role in this evolving industry. Whether it is completing the hard-to-maneuver routes, transporting hazardous materials, navigating construction sites or overseeing the autonomous technology in the cab, drivers are essential to the trucking industry. With advanced technologies, it has never been easier for fleets to develop and manage programs and policies that improve driver retention and increase profitability.

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Jason Palmer, Chief Operating Officer, Smart Drive Systems

ason Palmer brings over 20 years of leadership delivering products to market for fast-growing technology companies such as Qualcomm, Now Software, Clientele Software, and Tut Systems. Prior to joining SmartDrive, Jason was the Vice President of Product Management and Marketing at Webtrends, Inc, responsible for defining the product development and go-to-market strategies for the award-winning Marketing Lab suite of digital marketing solutions. As a founding member of the Electronics management team, he pioneered selling consumer electronics online, growing the company to $50 million in four years. He is a graduate of Oregon State University with degrees in Marketing and Economics.