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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Commentary: The Fatal Uber Crash Revisited


komando.com
Article thanks to Rolf Lockwood and truckinginfo.com. Links provided:
I take it back. Way back. In my May column I wrote about the Arizona fatality in March involving an Uber vehicle in autonomous mode. The facts were “a bit sketchy,” I admitted, but suggested that “in a sense they don’t matter. It’s about the optics.”
Well, it certainly was about the optics in the larger context of social acceptance in the autonomous world. And they were undeniably bad, even though it was the first fatal accident involving what people call a ‘robot’ vehicle.
“I’d venture a guess that autonomy actually has little to do with this accident, that nothing could have prevented the woman’s death,” I wrote back in May. “There simply wasn’t time for any reaction, human or otherwise.”
But there actually was time, apparently, according to a 300-page report released by the Tempe Police Department in late June. And in fact the report blames the crash on distracted driving. Sound familiar?
To remind you of the circumstances, the Uber vehicle — a Volvo XC90 SUV — was doing 44 mph on a multi-lane roadway at night, apparently in Level Four autonomous mode, and simply failed to “see” Elaine Herzberg crossing the road while walking her bicycle. She was not at a crosswalk, jaywalking in other words. A so-called “backup” human driver — Rafaela Vasquez — was present, though not actively driving. Worse than that, the police report says the driver was watching ‘The Voice’ on a cell phone, and in the 20 minutes or so before the crash, her eyes were off the road some 32% of the time.
The driver in this case, and it’s clear in a video the police released on Twitter,  saw the woman crossing the road only half a second before impact. The car did not brake at all.
FreightWaves, in an interview with Brad Moore, Director of Communications and Media Relations for Central New Mexico Community College noted that CNM is at “the intersection of I-25 and I-40 in the heart of Albuquerque, two highly traveled trucking routes,” making it an ideal spot for training the next generation of drivers. According to Moore, CNM has long offered a “college-credit truck driving certificate program that takes 12 to 15 weeks to complete, as well as contract training for local trucking companies that wanted one-on-one, accelerated training opportunities for their prospective drivers.”
By 2015, CNM was receiving more demand for “accelerated training that wouldn’t require a trucking company or individual to provide the vehicle,” and by fall 2016, “CNM Ingenuity, an arm of CNM that offers accelerated training programs in high-demand fields, received approval to use one of the Class A vehicles from the college’s traditional semester-long program for one-on-one trainings. The response to this type of training was very positive and led to significantly higher demand for accelerated training opportunities, with little to no marketing. That led to the planning of the new accelerated program,” Moore explained.
As for appealing to younger drivers, Moore estimates that 80% of inquiries about the new program have been from millennials, and that their first group of students has already started hitting the books. “The first cohort of the accelerated program started on July 9 with five participants. A new cohort of six to nine students will now start every four weeks. The August cohort is nearly full. In the fall, we plan to begin running two cohorts a day to meet demand,” Moore stated.
“Since announcing the launch of this program, we have received a tremendous response from trucking companies and people in our community who want to become truck drivers and earn a good living,” said Kyle Lee, chief executive officer of CNM Ingenuity. “As a community college, this is exactly what we strive to do – educate and train community members for quality jobs that serve the needs of our regional economy.”


Saturday, September 15, 2018

A driver wins his lawsuit, and the award is so small his lawyers can barely get paid

Article thanks to John Kingston and freightwaves.com. Links provided:
July, 2018  It must have been an exciting day last December for truck driver David Couch. His lawsuit against Randall Rents of Florida, which rents industrial equipment, had come in from the jury and he was a winner.
Couch had refused to drive a truck because he thought it was unsafe. As a result, he was dismissed. He filed suit claiming his rights had been violated under the Florida laws governing what it describes as "whistleblowing."
The jury agreed. It awarded Couch damages. The amount? A whopping $4,720.
And now the case drags on in court, because the lawyers want to get compensated, and taking a piece out of $4,720 doesn't pay for much.
That's why the legal filings in the case continue to fly, long after the case was adjudicated. FreightWaves sent emails to the lawyers involved, but heard no response. Still, there are enough legal documents to piece together what happened in the case where the requested legal fees are many times the amount of the award.
(Not to get political but it spurs memories of one of the first significant legal battles where the public met Donald Trump, back in the mid 80’s. Massive sums were spent on an antitrust battle between the United States Football League and the NFL, and the USFL, led by New Jersey Generals' owner Trump, won the case. The award? One dollar, tripled because it was an antitrust case. A terrific book was written about it.)
According to one of the documents in the case, Couch joined Randall in January 2014 and "performed his job in an exemplary manner, and had only received positive remarks and reviews from his superiors."

A "shimmy sound"

Toward the end of his time there, according to the document, he complained to management that there was a "shimmy sound" coming from the front of his truck, and that his transmission was the likely source of the sound.
An inspection of the truck was scheduled, but before it could take place, Couch was told to drive to Gainesville, Florida "with the faulty and dangerous truck." The trip would be about 600 miles round trip.
"At this time, (Couch) refused to do the trip as...he believed it would be dangerous to send out a knowingly faulty vehicle that type of distance," the document said. He refused to go on the trip and was fired.
According to the original lawsuit, Couch's activity was protected under various Florida statutes known as the Florida Whistle-Blower Act, as well as laws regarding the operation of a vehicle known to be dangerous. Couch and his attorneys asked that the court declare that Randall's acts had violated the Whistle Blower Act; that back pay and other financial considerations be paid, including "compensatory and consequential damages"; and that Couch be awarded "reasonable attorney's fees" and other legal costs.
In the two-page jury verdict, the jury answered “yes” to the following questions:
--"Do you find that the Plaintiff (Couch) objected to, or refused to participate in, conduct that Plaintiff reasonably believed would be a violation of Florida Statutes 316.610 and 316.6105? (Those statues involve knowingly operating a vehicle that the driver knows or believes is unsafe).”
--"Do you find that the Plaintiff's termination was causally connected to his objection to, or refusal to participate in, conduct that Plaintiff reasonably believe would be a violation of (the safety statutes)?”
A "no" answer was then provided to the following question: "Do you find that the Defendant (Randall) provided a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for terminating the Plaintiff?”
The final question on the jury sheet: “Should the Plaintiff be awarded damages to compensate for loss of wages and benefits from the date of termination to the date of new employment?” The yes box is checked. On the line where the compensation is requested, there's the number; $4,720. There is no explanation why the amount was so relatively small.
In the instructions to the jury, the judge said a finding in favor of Couch should consider "the following elements" in setting the size of the award: the difference between lost wages and benefits to the date of the trial (the trial was in November-December 2017, and Couch was fired in May 2015); any wages to be lost in the future; and any "emotional pain and mental anguish."
A court did order in early January that an additional $25,000 in legal fees be paid by Randall to the attorneys for Couch for costs incurred up until the decision in the case, as well as about $5,350 to Couch himself for expenses he incurred.
But with the attorneys not viewing that amount as adequate, the litigation goes on. Legal documents continue to fly back-and-forth between Couch’s and Randall’s attorneys, leading to the conclusion that the monetary value of the hours being spent on the after-case by both sides’ attorneys might end up being equal in value to the size of any award.  
As for the size of those requested awards, attorney Chad Levy is asking approximately $40,300; David Cozad just a touch under $3,000; and Evan Krakower $25,150.
Round the total up to $70,000. Even if you ignore the roughly $30,000 awarded in January to the attorneys and Couch, it means the court award is about 7% of the legal fees now being contested.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

How Not to Hate Your Diesel Particulate Filter

searchautoparts.com
Article thanks to Les Smart and truckinginfo.com. Links provided:
July, 2018  We all know by now that the mandated 2007 and 2010 emissions standard rules radically changed on-highway diesel-powered trucks and tractors. To reduce emissions to satisfy the Environmental Protection Agency-mandated level of soot and NOx, engines needed to add technology to meet the new standards.
As a result, the infamous diesel particulate filter (DPF) came into being in 2007, and diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) was introduced in 2010 into the exhaust stream to reduce particulates and NOx. While this change was a benefit to the environment, the introduction of both brought tales of woe from truck owners regarding the added expense, maintenance, and failures. 

The DPF’s Job

The sole intention of the DPF is to catch and retain particulates, or “soot” in layman’s language. The DPF requires periodic soot removal cycles, termed “regeneration” or “regen” for short. These regens burn the accumulated soot out of the DPF at extremely high temperatures. Most of these “passive” regens occur almost unnoticed at highway speeds. 
While the filter burns off soot at speed, soot will accumulate during idling or slow traffic. Trucks that don’t accumulate a lot of mileage, those in extended idle periods such as stop-and-go duty cycles in urban environments, or stationary power take off (PTO) applications may require the driver to commence an active, or manual regen. 
Regens are generally accomplished by activating a switch on the dash of the truck. An active regen takes approximately 20 minutes, depending upon how clogged the DPF is. When a regen is commenced manually, the vehicle should be parked and away from buildings, brush, people, and animals.  
This should be the only maintenance necessary on the DPF system in the first 100,000 to 150,000 driving miles. However, if high idling occurs regularly during the duty cycle, regens will be more frequent.
Teach your drivers to pull over in a safe place and park if a manual regen is required. Hopefully, your duty cycles will have the truck doing automatic regens all or most of the time. 

Keep it Clean 

According to Dan Whittle, service manager for Cumberland Trucks, an international dealer serving Tennessee with its headquarters in Nashville, the following issues will cause premature clogging of the DPF filter:
  • City driving with a light load
  • Stop-and-go traffic
  • Excessive use of engine brakes 
  • Inappropriate engine oil type: engines using non-low ash oil meeting the API performance classification CI-4/SL will retain soot and ash prematurely
  • Operator error
With operator error, there are many issues to consider. Failing to run an active regen when the truck asks for it, or interfering with the truck in any way that does not allow it to complete an active regen, will cause problems. Drivers need to know the difference between the exhaust temperature light and the DPF light. If the driver never sees the DPF light come on, that’s a good thing. This means the truck is doing what it is supposed to do. Whittle says drivers bring their trucks in for service because the DPF light never comes on.You’ll know when the truck needs a manual regen because the regen light will come on.
Do it — don’t bypass this, even temporarily. If your truck is equipped with a gauge in addition to a light, the gauge will progress from green to orange to red. Do not increase engine load after the regen light comes on, Whittle says. 
Manual regens should be run when the gauge is orange. By the time your gauge is in the red, you will be experiencing a power derating of the engine.

A Job for Professionals

There are plenty of truck components that can be serviced DIY — but a DPF is not one of them. Using shop air to blow off soot or ash will not clean the filter. Restoring a DPF to its optimal performance level is a science; specialized equipment is needed.
In terms of how often to service, it is essential to observe your truck’s published service interval. Severe duty cycles may increase the frequency of active regenerations, which is a good warning to service the DPF sooner than the published interval. 
Regarding where to service, the best course of action is to follow the truck manufacturer’s recommendation. Most truck dealers clean DPFs, though truck service centers and diesel emission service specialists also offer this service. 
Trucks can be brought in for servicing or the filter can be removed and brought in by itself. Other services offer pickup and delivery. Some DPF makers offer an exchange program in which dirty DPFs can be swapped for remanufactured clean ones. Consult your specific manufacturer first, as some manufacturers forbid component swapping, which will cause denial of a warranty claim. 
If you are looking into a third-party service to clean your filter, ask the provider if it warranties the cleaning and make sure to understand the details of the warranty. Some third parties work with franchised dealers. If so, call one of those dealers for a recommendation.
In general, exercise extreme caution if you’re thinking of having your DPF serviced by a third party. Going through your manufacturer’s franchised dealer, which typically charges about $200 to $500, is the safest way to ensure you won’t face any warranty issues if a faulty DPF causes damage to other components.
While that cost seems high, this cleaning can greatly extend the life of the component while reducing maintenance downtime and costs. This cost is relatively inexpensive when compared to the total cost of the vehicle when purchased. The DPF cleaning can also be combined with other scheduled service work to further minimize downtime.
During a dealer cleaning, a baseline reading is taken of the restriction of airflow through the filter using the air flow test bench. Most OEM filters have a baseline of what is considered acceptable air flow. If needed, the filter will be baked in a controlled cycle to burn any soot and convert it to ash. 
Once the DPF has gone through the cleaning process, its air flow is tested to ensure that it meets the manufacturer’s specs for a cleaned DPF. The DPF is then remounted on the truck. 
This process could take up to 90 minutes, though baking the filter could take up to eight hours. 

When to Clean

Trucks that make frequent stops combined with heavy-duty cycles will need their DPFs cleaned around 100,000 miles. Trucks with less severe duty cycles may wait until 150,000 to 200,000 miles. The specific use of your trucks will dictate when cleanings are necessary. 
Replacement of the DPF is much costlier than cleaning one. A new filter will cost more than $2,000; a used one can be had for $1,200 to $1,600. 
So, what’s the $64,000 answer as to how long my DPF will last in my service? I have seen Class 6 and Class 7 trucks with 6- or 7-liter engines regularly go up to 150,000 miles or more before needing to clean the DPF. Their ultimate life could be in the range of 250,000 miles.
Class 8 trucks with 12- to 15-liter engines should attain 250,000 miles and could go as long as 400,000 to 500,000 miles. The hours and mileage will vary, of course, depending upon your duty cycle. Using good, clean, low-ash diesel is a key to longevity.
Learn to appreciate having DPFs on your trucks. We all deserve to have cleaner air to breathe — especially our children and our grandchildren. 
About the Author
Les Smart is president of Smart Fleet Management, a small and medium fleet consulting company. He can be reached at smart5010@atlasok.com. 


Saturday, September 8, 2018

A Twin Cities family forgives: Nebraska judge gives 6-month term to trucker who killed 5

Article thanks to Paul Walsh and startribune.com. Links provided:

The truck driver was distracted by his phone, a drink before crash killed couple, their 3 small children.

Thanks to a Minnesota family’s forgiveness, a truck driver who triggered a distracted driving crash in Nebraska that killed five of their family members will serve just a few months in jail.
Tony Weekly Jr., 55, of Baker, Fla., was sentenced in Keith County District Court on Friday to six months in jail and two years’ probation for the crash nearly two years ago in an Interstate 80 construction zone near Brule in western Nebraska.
With credit for 30 days he’s already spent in jail, Weekly will serve five months behind bars starting Aug. 3.
On July 31, 2016, Weekly smashed his semitrailer truck into the back of the Pals family’s minivan while on his hands-free phone and reaching for a drink, according to prosecutors.
Jamison and Kathryne Pals, both 29, died in the five-vehicle pileup, along with their children: Ezra, 3; Violet, 23 months; and Calvin, 2 months. The family was about to move to Japan to work as Christian missionaries and were heading to Colorado for a final training session. The crash also killed another motorist.
Weekly pleaded no contest to three felony and four misdemeanor counts.
Prosecutors had sought a much tougher sentence. But Cedrick Pals, Jamison’s father, spoke during Friday’s sentencing and asked Judge Richard Birch to show mercy for Weekly.
“I struggle to find the words that describe the grief that gripped me,” said Pals, who lives in Hugo, reading from his statement. “I know how much God has forgiven me. How can I not forgive you?”
Pals said there are three words that come to mind: “Forgiveness. Mercy. Hope.”
Weekly wept during his own statement in court, the Omaha World Herald reported, saying there are some days when “I can’t go to work.”
After sentencing, Pals and Weekly met outside the courtroom and embraced.
Signs of forgiveness from Jamison Pals’ parents were evident within days of the crash. His mother, Kathy, said that she was saddened to hear that Weekly had been charged, saying that it would be hard enough for him to live with he had done.
Didn’t slow down
Witnesses said that Weekly’s semi was speeding in the construction zone and didn’t slow down before impact, according to the charges. The force pushed the family’s van into three other westbound vehicles. Both the van and the truck burst into flames. Besides the Pals family, 56-year-old Terry Sullivan, of Denver, was in another vehicle caught up in the mayhem and died days later.
The Palses met at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul, an evangelical Christian college in Roseville. In the months before the crash, they had sold most of their belongings in preparation for the move to Japan, which was expected to happen in late October. They moved out of their Minneapolis home and in with Kathryne’s parents in Wayzata, where she grew up.
They were given the assignment by Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.
The young family had been planning the move for a couple of years and made multiple treks to Littleton, Colo., for training with WorldVenture, a Christian mission agency. They tracked their preparations on a blog called joyofjapan.org, where they wrote expansively about their faith and family.
Jamison Pals graduated from Centennial High School in Circle Pines, then Northwestern and received a master’s from Bethel Seminary in St. Paul. He worked as a grant writer for Feed My Starving Children in Eagan,
Kathryne Pals graduated from West Lutheran High School in Plymouth before getting her degree at Northwestern. She intended to teach English to preschoolers in Japan.



Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Fleets are Chasing Drivers with Better Pay and Quality of Life

Article thanks to Steven Martinez and truckinginfo.com. Links provided:

Aug 3, 2018  In the past few months, many fleets have increased wages in an attempt to find and keep new drivers. Facing high turnover and fewer entrants to the industry, these companies are competing for a pool of talent that is only thinning out each year. But the life of a truck driver can be difficult, and improving pay is only one way to reach them. As a result, fleets are introducing innovative pay packages to help improve quality of life as well.

A little history: After the deregulation of the trucking industry in 1980, truck driver wages stagnated as inflation and other comparable jobs continued to track upwards. While the trucking industry opened up and fleets began to offer more on-demand type shipping, what used to be a solid middle class career became one of high miles, long hours, and, for fleets, low margins.
The numbers bear out this shift. According to one estimate from the U.S. Department of Labor, if trucker wages had kept up with inflation after deregulation, a driver would be earning over $100,000 a year. Instead, in 2016, the average driver only took home $53,000. At large truckload carriers, turnover was at 94% in the first quarter of this year — a virtual certainty that when some fleets hire on a new driver, they’ll be gone before the end of the year.
Prior to 1980, “drivers were paid very well,” says Gordon Klemp, founder and president of the National Transportation Institute, which tracks driver wage trends. “It was a very attractive career to go into for someone with aspirations to be a blue collar worker and make a solid wage.”
Once wages fell off pace with inflation, there were few influxes of talent into the trucking career field as wages effectively began to decrease — maybe the last group to join the trucking industry en masse were Vietnam veterans, according to Klemp. “It became a less attractive job.”
But high turnover is par for the course in the trucking industry these days. So are flat wages. That is, until partway through 2017, when the freight environment really started to take off. With a healthy economy, suddenly there was an abundance of freight to move, and trucking fleets became more active in buying new equipment and finding drivers to fill them. But a great trucking business environment has also exposed the flaws of the industry.
“It’s called all of the bad things coming together at once,” says Lana Batts, co-president of Driver IQ, a background screening and driver monitoring services company for the trucking industry. In this case, “all of the bad things” are actually some really great things — a strong economy, more people buying things and shipping them, and low unemployment.
Truck orders in the first quarter of 2018 hit a 12-year high, averaging over 45,000 new units per month, according, to ACT Research, a rate surpassed only by the prebuy in 2006 as fleets bought trucks ahead of the EPA ’07 emissions regulations changes. Trailer orders have also exploded. But all of that shiny new equipment can’t haul anything without drivers.
For years, the trucking industry has bemoaned the aging workforce, the lack of new entrants, the stagnating wages, and for years, it hasn’t really mattered that much. Until now. “You don’t have a driver shortage during a recession,” Batts notes.
Not everyone believes there is a true driver shortage, but it’s hard to argue that most fleets are finding themselves with more work than they have drivers to handle. If a company needs to dispatch 10 trucks to deliver 10 loads but can only fill four of them with drivers, there must be some sort of problem. “We’re out of drivers — that’s the only way I can express it,” Klemp says.

Money talks, more money talks louder

Nussbaum Transportation is one of many fleets that have upped per-mile pay for drivers recently. The Illinois-based company publicized two driver pay increases the past six months, totaling 5 cents per mile, which the company says has increased driver pay by 10%.
Every month sees a new crop of announcements from fleets of pay increases, bonuses, and benefits boosts. Across the industry, carriers are digging into their pockets to increase driver pay. In a recent report by Driver IQ, as many as 60% of fleets surveyed reported increasing per-mile pay for drivers and just over half increased performance bonuses.
According to NTI, half of driver pay increases so far in 2018 amounted to only 1 to 3 cents per mile. But nearly as many fleets have increased it by 4 to 6 cents. Even more indicative of the desperation for drivers is the small — but telling — percentage of fleets increasing pay by as much as 11 cents per mile.
With all of the years of driver shortage warnings and reports of high turnover, why only now is driver pay finally increasing? Simply put, carriers are finally able to charge more.
One of the worst-kept secrets in trucking is that everyone, fleets included, will tell you that drivers should be paid more. But trucking companies won’t pay more money unless they’re getting more money, and that is dependent on what the market is willing to pay. “You will not see driver pay go up unless you have rising freight rates,” Klemp says. Even with a tight driver supply, tight freight capacity, and high driver turnover, in Klemp’s estimation, wages won’t budge until fleets can charge more for their services.
But many fleets are finding in the current environment they can indeed charge more. “We have gotten some leverage on rates — some additional revenue that we can use toward this [increasing pay] — and we wanted to share that with the guys doing the work,” says Jeremy Stickling, vice president of human resources and safety at Nussbaum. “I’ve been at Nussbaum 11 years, and it’s the biggest increase we’ve done in one year in my time here. Drivers are in high demand right now.”

The quality of life equation

Another worst-kept secret is that driving as a profession is often difficult and unrewarding, with long hours on the road, multiple days away from home, and pay that is often reliant on how much productivity you can squeeze out of each hour. Between long delays at docks, running out of hours because of traffic jams, and the unevenness of pay week to week, a profession that requires a strict regimen to maximize profit is often at the mercy of uncontrollable circumstances.
Nussbaum pays its drivers door-to-door miles as a way to mitigate the losses that result from having to route around traffic. The company also pays detention pay starting after just an hour of waiting to be unloaded.
“Drivers are saying, ‘if you’re going to cause me to be away from home for long periods of time and give me irregular times that I can get home, I’m going to go someplace else’ unless you pay them a whole lot more,” says Batts. “If we were paying drivers a hundred grand, I don’t think we would be seeing the turnover problem that we have today.”
So drivers chase the money that is available, leaving one fleet for a slight pay raise, benefit boost, or sign-on bonus somewhere else. But leaving a job can be costly. The per-mile pay may be better elsewhere, but it may take a driver a while to learn the new system and maximize his or her money-making ability. And just because a driver may make a decent annual wage by the end of the year, a few lean weeks can be costly as bills pile up quickly.
More and more, fleets are actively addressing the unevenness of truck driver pay. Nussbaum, for instance, is one of several fleets offering drivers guaranteed weekly minimum pay to help smooth things out for drivers. Rest and relaxation is also key to a driver’s quality of life, and Nussbaum also offers paid time off based on that weekly minimum.

Smoothing out lumpy pay

As long as truck drivers are being paid by the mile, they must always be looking to maximize their efforts. Fleets can add on benefits, bonuses, and minimums, but the job will always be unpredictable. That’s why this year Smokey Point Distributing announced something of a novelty in the trucking industry — a guaranteed annual salary. But is it really bucking the industry trend?
“All trucking companies pay by the mile, and it’s just been an industry standard for so many years that we all follow each other,” says Dan Wirkkala, CEO of Smokey Point Distributing. “When somebody raises pay by the mile, the others follow. But nobody has really stepped out and taken operational accountability for the efficiency of how many miles they give their drivers.”
Rather than guaranteeing minimums or upping the maximum possible pay to entice talent, the Washington-based fleet is offering over-the-road drivers some stability. Solo drivers can earn a minimum of $65,000 per year through its salary program. Nothing to sneeze at, but the total-year amount is not what stands out about the open-deck carrier’s pay model. It’s the ability to tell drivers that they will be paid a consistent amount month to month, in advance, that could break the cycle of uneven pay.
It may sound simple — maybe even a matter of semantics — to say you are guaranteeing a driver’s annual salary. But to truly say a driver has an annual salary, a fleet has to loosen the ties between week-to-week output and week-to-week pay. There must be a difference between saying a driver “can” earn $65,000 in a year and saying they “will” earn that amount. But fleets are also paid based on productivity, so there can’t be any handouts. In order to provide drivers with a truly consistent income, Smokey Point had to take ownership of the productivity of a truck. To do this, Wirkkala says Smokey Point focused on developing tools that would give the fleet better visibility into driver performance and operations. It also hired people with the skills to effectively use these tools. It was critically important that the company be able to maintain profitability once the pay program was implemented.
The company uses these tools to track driver productivity in real time and see its high- and low-performing drivers. This allows it to see if a driver is contributing to a dip in performance or if it’s related to Smokey Point’s own operational efficiency.
Drivers still have to reach a monthly mileage minimum to participate in the salary program, but the system allows for leeway. If a driver falls short of his or her minimum mileage threshold, accessorial fees that are being paid to drivers on top of the base salary will be used to “buy” enough miles to meet that minimum. Even if a driver doesn’t have enough accessorials to buy back the miles, he or she can still stay in the program. The negative balance will simply carry forward each month until the driver builds up enough to make up the deficit.
A driver does have to account for his or her minimum annual mileage by the end of the year. Wirkkala says no matter what happens, Smokey Point is taking on all of the risk in this program, not its drivers, and in every case the fleet is paying more than it would have with a strictly mileage-based pay.
“We understand that some drivers are going to be unproductive in a month with time off or breakdowns or whatever. So we have to make sure that we’re tracking that performance on an annual basis,” Wirkkala says. “The company takes the risk of making sure that we overcome those [mileage deficits] by the end of the year.”

It’s still about the money

Smokey Point’s system is also set up to reward good drivers, offering thousands of dollars over the base salary through mileage bonuses. On top of earned monthly accessorials, any mile that is over the top of a driver’s minimum monthly requirement goes into an annual bonus bucket that will be paid out to them at the tenured rate per mile that they would have earned under the mileage program.
“There’s all the incentive in the world for our drivers to overachieve their base salary now, because they get paid for every mile above that minimum base, just like they would on the mileage program,” says Wirkkala. “But the base salary ensures them that they will never make any less than that base salary amount, regardless of their productivity in miles for the month.”
Not every driver at Smokey Point is being paid on the salary program. Many are still being paid by mileage. They aren’t forced to switch, and some may not be eligible for the program. All new incoming drivers can opt into the program, but for existing company drivers, Smokey Point looks at historical data to determine if an employee will be able to meet the minimum required mileage.
Wirkkala says his company has always had relatively low turnover, around 30%, and it didn’t introduce the salary program just to put more drivers into its trucks. Instead, the company’s goal was to make what it sees as a necessary change in the way drivers are being compensated. “Our big motivation was to be more efficient as a company and just to give drivers, honestly, what they’ve deserved since the beginning of trucking,” Wirkkala says. Nevertheless, since announcing the annual salary pay program, Smokey Point has seen its driver applications increase by three to four times.
At the end of the day, trucking, like any job, is about earning a living. And again, with business booming, employment options more plentiful, and fleets needing drivers more than ever, it’s hard to beat an extra dollar. So far this year, we’ve finally seen driver wages increase. So what can fleets expect with regards to driver pay for the rest of 2018? Batts says simply: “It’s gonna go up.
“I’ll take a bet on that, any bet you want — and it will probably go up in 2019, short of there being a major recession.”