Why is driver turnover in trucking so high?

The North American trucking industry has long suffered from a severe driver retention issue. Driver retention is the inverse of turnover – the percentage of drivers that stayed as opposed to left a carrier. The operating realities of long-haul, for-hire trucking translates into working conditions that require both employee and independent contractor drivers to be away from home, and alone for days and sometimes weeks at a time. This combined with transit delays (both on the road and at customer facilities), and lifestyle-related health pressures (sleep deprivation and poor eating choices) are the primary causes of both short and long-term turnover. 

Based on periodic surveys of TCA Profitability Program participants, trucking industry turnover is heavily weighted to drivers with limited tenure  (voluntary and involuntary terminations), which is drivers with less than 180 days since original hire date. For those carriers that participated in the surveys, short-term turnover accounted for over 85% of total annualized turnover. This reinforces the hypothesis that the root cause of the industry’s retention issue is the difficulty acclimating to  working conditions that exist for drivers, especially long haul drivers. Further, the longer the average length of haul, the higher the turnover. 

Annualized Turnover Rate Formula (Monthly Method)

((# of Drivers Departed) * 12) / (Driver Count Beg. of Month + Driver Count End of Month)/2))

Interpretation: Based on the above formula, the way to interpret is if the current level of turnover reported in the period continued at the same rate for the entire year. 

Driver Turnover Statistics

Q3 2019 Q2 2019 Q1 2019 Q4 2018
TPP Participants (All) 97.50% 103.13% 105.31% 99.74%
TPP Participants (1-249 Trucks) 94.61% 109.75% 107.71% 98.77%
TPP Participants (250 + Trucks) 99.11% 103.59% 103.08% 98.45%
ATA Large Carrier Turnover 96% Not Reported 83% 78%
ATA Small Carrier Turnover 73% Not Reported 73% 77%
ATA LTL Carrier Turnover 9.00% Not Reported 18% 10%

Sources: TCA Profitability Program (TPP) participants, American Trucking Associations (ATA)

The Primary Causes of Driver Turnover

  1. Human Nature – Humans are social animals. We crave interaction and connection with others. Any occupation or endeavor that limits the connection or communication with others has an inherent labor or participation rate challenge. Truck driving, specifically long-haul trucking is one of those endeavors. In recent years, there has been a large effort among for-hire carriers to lower their average trip length (otherwise known as ‘Average Length of Haul’). The motivation behind this effort has been to increase the amount of hometime that drivers would realize in a given week or month. The hypothesis is that the more frequent the driver is home during a given month or week, the lower the possibility of voluntary turnover. Macro supply chain forces have aided this effort with the increased prevalence of regional distribution centres, and the growth of e-commerce. 
  2. Economic – The majority of long-haul professional truck drivers are paid on a per-mile basis, which remains the main freight pricing mechanism for truckload. The disparity between the number of miles driven during a payroll or settlement period can vary dramatically. This can result in a significant difference in take home pay. The contrast can lead to budgeting and expense challenges, especially for new drivers that are not used to inconsistent (albeit larger) compensation amounts. In recent years, carriers have experimented with guaranteed and even salary-based compensation for their long-haul drivers to combat turnover related to this issue. 
  3. Health – Any occupation that requires a significant amount of travel presents the worker with an overwhelming amount of unhealthy food options. The tradeoff of health for convenience has led to high levels of obesity and lifestyle-related diseases among truck drivers. Voluntary health-related turnover has sadly remained one of the largest contributors to driver turnover for decades.
  4. Expectations vs. Realities – Truck driving has always been an occupation that provides a worker the opportunity to earn above-average wages relative to educational requirements. However, the benefit of higher compensation comes with costs, most of which are outlined above. The other disparity that drivers face, especially new entrants, is expectations versus the realities of long-haul truck driving. Trucking provides a way for drivers to experience the beautiful landscapes of the continent first hand, but it also forces drivers to experience deteriorating infrastructure and general inefficiencies in supply chains. Drivers bare the costs of these.