In case after case, we see truck drivers with bad driving records cause yet another crash. Given that trucking companies are required by law to check their drivers’ records, I wondered why they would keep hiring unsafe drivers. I did a little digging, and learned the answer was painfully obvious: to make more money.

Trucking companies make money by hauling loads. An empty truck makes no money. In fact, an empty truck costs the company money because the company still has to pay insurance, make the truck payment, etc.

A typical over-the-road or regional truck generates $800 to $1,000 per day in gross revenue when it is hauling loads. That same truck has around $100 per day in fixed overhead, such as the truck payment, insurance, taxes, and maintenance escrow. The company will also have to pay around $260 per day for fuel, and $200 per day for the driver, leaving the total costs around $560 per day. Therefore, a trucking company makes a profit of $240 to $440 for every day a truck is on the road.

Look at a large trucking company like JB Hunt, which at one time had 10,500 tractors but only 10,000 CDL drivers. Those 500 empty tractors were causing the company to lose $120,000 to $220,000 a day in potential profits. Worse, the company will still spend about $50,000 a day in fixed overhead on these empty trucks. Over the course of a year those 500 empty trucks equal $43,800,000 to $80,300,000 per year in lost potential profits. Those lost potential profits create a powerful economic incentive to get someone behind the wheel, even if the driver is less than perfect.

Drivers with bad driving records get in more crashes. A 2011 study by the American Transportation Research Institute found that drivers who had a past crash were 88% more likely to get in another wreck. A driver with a conviction for failing to use a turn signal was 96% more likely to get in a crash. A driver with a ticket for speeding 15 miles per hour or more over the limit was 67% more likely to be in a crash. So these bad driving records do matter in the real world.

So how do we protect our families from unsafe truck drivers when the trucking companies have such a powerful incentive to keep those drivers on the road? It is only by thoroughly investigating the trucking companies’ conduct in each and every truck crash and holding the companies fully responsible for the harm they cause. We need to make the companies pay more in settlements when their bad drivers hurt our clients than the company made for keeping the driver on the road.

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