Technical Paper 05-P-5


Mathew Smidt, Robert Tufts, Tom Gallagher, and Tim McDonald,
School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences
Auburn University
Auburn, Alabama

The headline read: “Wife survives, husband dies in 5th fatal accident in 4 days; Van rear-ends truck loaded with logs” (Smith 2004). Usually by the time the headline hits the paper most of the local logging community knows the details. Even if the driver is not at fault we wonder if the contractor or the logger will financially survive the aftermath. Obstacles include the personal cost, direct cost of the collision, increased insurance costs, and potential loss of a driver to a poor motor vehicle record.

The challenge of loss control in trucking is not unique to logging, but logging has some particular challenges on the road. As an industry there are no good data to tell how good or poor the record is. The Federal Motor Carrier and Safety Administration ( reports that the average rate of crash involvement of commercial trucks in number per 100,000,000 miles traveled for 2003 was 1.95 fatalities, 41.9 injury crashes, and 150 property damage or towaway crashes. The only way to estimate a rate for logging is to use the pole trailer cargo classification. The definition for pole trailer is: “Trailer is used to carry logs or other long objects. The unloaded trailer resembles an extended pole with no flat surface as with a flatbed trailer.” Information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicated that there are likely discrepancies among states in reporting and classification of crashes involving pole trailers. In 2001 and 2002, 98 fatal crashes involving pole trailers were recorded nationwide. Estimating a rate of crash involvement takes a couple of major educated guesses. The total harvest in the US in 2002 was 14.83 billion cubic feet. We assumed the average load size was 833 cubic feet and the average haul was 100 miles roundtrip. That renders a fatal crash rate of 2.75; the average in 2002 was 2.4. Close, but who knows how close?

Safety, in about every venture, can be affected by managing exposure to risk. In hauling, exposure to risk is related to the number of drivers contracted or employed, the miles driven by those drivers, the quality of the equipment, and the quality of the drivers. Most of our WSRI report addresses methods to reduce exposure and the miles driven by increasing payload and percent loaded miles. If logging were able to achieve a 5% increase in payload and a 5% increase in loaded miles, that could eliminate 3 fatal crashes, 71 injury crashes, and 154 towaway crashes per year. The results could even be better if the fleet is modernized, and the better drivers and carriers are retained as a result of the improvements.

How safe are logging drivers? Again, from the statistics we don’t really know. In our survey we asked drivers about attributes relayed to safety. The results don’t highlight any areas of extreme concern. Truck ownership is important (56%) because employee drivers, especially those that change jobs a lot, have higher rates of crash involvement. Increased age and experience lead to lower rates of crash involvement. We found 86% of drivers over 30 and 66% with more than ten years of experience. The poorest area was behavior and attitude; 40% don’t always wear seatbelts; 30% don’t always complete pre-trip inspections; and 52% think that laws are too strict. Annual mileage was less than 100,000 miles for most of the drivers (83%), indicating lower rates of exposure.

The best news is that the negative things can be improved through training. Seminar training does work to ensure that drivers know the rules and the consequences for not following them. However, seminar training doesn’t make better drivers. The conclusion from training drivers is that talking about driving in a classroom is not helpful. Driving is such a complex task that the drivers that need training won’t get the point until they’ve had more experience. Training via seminar won’t add age or experience to drivers. If you plan on making better drivers through training, you’d better be a driver and plan to spend that training time in the cab with the driver.

Everyone recognizes that the largest single challenge is the struggle to find drivers. Not just quality drivers, but enough drivers. The challenge only gets more difficult with more restrictive hours of service rules and elimination of some potential drivers due to insurance costs. The 800 pound gorilla in the room is the commercial trucking industry, which has an insatiable demand for drivers and on average pays about 25% greater than logging. Not only can they pay more for drivers, but they have greater ability to pass those costs onto the customer and eventually the consumer. An edge that logging lacks.

Logging has to address recruiting, selection, and retention of qualified drivers in order maintain or increase safety performance. One road block to that activity is that logging is increasingly served by contract owner/drivers. In 2002 logging employed 9,260 drivers. We estimate that is about 40% of what it needs to haul the annual harvest. Our driver survey of 383 drivers across 5 states agreed with that number, finding that 56% of drivers owned their tractor. There may be some responsibility by loggers to ensure that contractors are in regulatory compliance, but training, equipment, and practices are by design out of loggers’ control. It was fairly common to hear from loggers that a once-plentiful supply of contract drivers was diminishing. Reasons included the availability of other work (driving or non-driving), poor return on truck investment, or the last insurance claim.

The shear number of commercial drivers employed in the US and the number of drivers employed by some of the large firms result in very sophisticated systems of driver selection, training, and retention. A survey of 148 carriers with good safety records revealed a list of best practices for driver management (Corsi and Barnard 2003). Determinants for driver selection included personality traits (e.g., honesty, reliable, self-discipline) and previous record of violations or crashes. Neither age nor training was an important factor in hiring, although most carriers set a minimum age of 23. Carriers universally trained in pre-trip inspections, federal safety regulations, accident notification, hours of service rules, post-trip inspections, and procedures. Carriers spent 1-2 weeks in pre-service training, where drivers commonly received one-on-one, in-vehicle training and feedback. Carriers commonly used a system of rewards and punishment to promote safe behavior. For equipment safety, carriers performed thorough inspections on a regular basis and frequently avoided most unscheduled downtime. Carriers count on operators to report if they are too fatigued to make a run. Technology to monitor machine data has been implemented by a number of carriers to monitor safety performance.

Implementing a comprehensive program like those reviewed is challenging, because logging contractors would not have the financial or personnel resources to implement it. Businesses like logging benefit from the churn of drivers through some the large employers. Turnover on a yearly basis can be quite high; annual rates ranging from 50% to 200% are not uncommon. Not surprisingly, turnover has been related to job satisfaction. A 1997 Gallup poll found that specific factors that lead to driver satisfaction were steadiness of work, genuine care of managers, pay, support from the company, and hours of work (Gooley 1997). Analysts indicate that loss of experienced drivers should be addressed through (i) public policy engagement by the industry to improve road conditions, (ii) improving driver image by incorporating them as business representatives, and (iii) devising a classification system that differentiates drivers for service, skill, experience, and training (Rodriguez and Griffin 1990).

A pessimist might say that, among drivers in logging, satisfaction with their work is not low. Our survey found that only pay has an average satisfaction rating in the poor area. Average satisfaction with equipment, training, and work hours were all positive. In terms of driving careers, logging has several attributes that drivers believe are positive. When compared to most commercial driving, companies in logging are smaller, work hours are shorter, and the equipment is satisfactory.

The survey did not assess turnover rates, but we did assess drivers’ age and time in driving and logging. Over 50% of all drivers in logging have been driving most of their adult lives, and about 25% have been driving log trucks most of their adult lives. Especially the 25% indicates job loyalty, which is a prized attribute in the trucking industry.

So what about equipment? The industry is in such a condition that it’s tough to propose and justify investment in new machines or add-ons. However, the sad fact is that the age of the fleet probably does result in some crashes every year due to equipment failure. It’s probably also true that performance of newer machine braking and suspension systems could eliminate more crashes. For life saving purposes, automatic crash notifications systems are worthwhile; simplistically, such systems are like black boxes in airlines, with a “mayday” system to alert responders in case of a crash. For carriers serious about improving safety or documenting the safety and action of their drivers during crashes, on-board computers and the Eaton Vorad systems are sophisticated and cost-effective choices.

So what should the logging industry do to stay competitive for quality drivers, to ensure good practices on the road, and to maintain competitive costs? We are not sure there is any recipe that satisfies all those conditions. Here’s a list of actions that we think needs to be considered to manage safety and cost:

  • Think more like a commercial carrier. If you don’t have time to manage all aspects listed as best practices of carriers, maybe its time to outsource. Turning over the reins to firms that specialize in transportation may put pressure to bring our trucking business into the 21st century. While that is not likely to be a cheaper solution, maybe outsiders can generate some innovation and a much needed third-party assessment of the transportation system.

  • Pull more drivers from the ranks of operators by making driving a career path option. While logging driving does not pay more than commercial driving, it may pay more than operating equipment. Driver loyalty is a big deal in retaining good drivers, and it’s clearly these folks that are most invested in logging. We lose a good number of drivers to poor motor vehicle records, and a logging firm might be viewed as a place for drivers to come from and go back to as conditions warrant. While losing a good operator from the woods might reduce income, a poor employee on the road could bankrupt the firm.

  • Train drivers on the rules you want them to follow, and leave driver training to driving professionals. We believe that there is a vast amount of knowledge and experience among the current drivers that could be used to mentor and train younger drivers informally.

  • Start driver recognition programs at the state level for logging drivers, based on skills, length of service, motor vehicle record, and community service. Given what’s at risk and what can be gained, our future is in their hands.

Corsi, T.M. and R.E. Barnard. 2003. Best highway safety practices: a survey about safety management practices among the safest motor carriers. The Supply Chain Management Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD. Online at

Gooley, T.B. 1997. How carriers are responding to the driver shortage. Logistics Management 36(12):43-46.

Rodriguez, J.M., and G.C. Griffin. 1990. The determinants of job satisfaction of professional drivers. Journal of the Transportation Research Forum 2:453-464.

Smith, S. 2004 Pensacola Journal News October 19, 2004. online at

[1]This is the fifth in a series of five articles written from research conducted at Auburn University during 2004 on ways to improve the productivity, efficiency, safety and costs of the trucking operation associated with logging.  For more information on this research study, please contact Tom Gallagher at . The research was funded by the Wood Supply Research Institute (WSRI).  For more information on WSRI, contact Jim Fendig at