The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has begun a study of the relationship between safety and driver pay.

The agency is asking for comments on a plan to see if there is a connection between industry pay practices and safe driving.

The issue arises from concern that drivers who are not paid for time waiting to load or unload are forced into unsafe practices in order to make a living.

“It is essential to recognize that professional drivers should be compensated for all time on duty. That’s integral to achieving the overall safety mission,” former agency chief Anne Ferro recently said.

Ferro was referencing a provision in the pending Obama administration highway bill that would require carriers to pay drivers at least the federal minimum wage for time spent waiting to be loaded or unloaded.

Over-the-road drivers generally are paid by the mile and may not be compensated for wait time.

“The (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) believes that safety could be significantly increased if drivers were compensated for these waiting periods,” the administration says in its analysis of the bill.

In Friday’s Federal Register the agency said it intends to “analyze the possible unintended consequences of the various methods by which (commercial) drivers are compensated.”

The agency also intends to look at how the type of operation – long-haul versus short-haul, and big carrier versus small carrier – factors into the pay question.

Other elements of the analysis will include fundamentals such as private versus for-hire carriage, the number of power units, average length of haul, commodities, the number of drivers in the company and their experience.

The agency will look for how pay and these other variable may affect driver and vehicle out-of-service rates as well as crash rates.

If the study finds a connection between methods of pay and safety, that information will help carriers make informed decisions about their compensation practices, the agency said.

The study will be done through an online questionnaire of randomly selected carriers.

Comments on the proposal are due by October 28.