Pay by the mile penalizes employee drivers by forcing them to absorb the economic burden of wasted time, Spencer said Oct. 26 at an American Bar Assn. symposium on driver fatigue. It also contributes to driver turnover by creating conditions that push would-be truckers out of the business, he said.
"The free-market mechanism to fix the situation is to pay by the hour rather than by the mile," he added in a subsequent interview.
Spencer's remarks pick up a theme that is starting to emerge in the national debate over truck safety. One proposal now in Congress calls for a study of how driver pay affects safety.
Spencer said a big part of the problem is time spent waiting, loading or unloading -- time that is not compensated under the current system.
One industry survey shows that dry van drivers for truckload carriers spend an average of 33.5 hours a week waiting, loading or unloading. Another found that refrigerated drivers spend 43 hours a week loading and unloading.
OOIDA, which represents mainly owner-operators but also some employee drivers, sees the industry at an impasse over this loss of time. Spencer said he is not confident that shippers and receivers will be able to fix the problem, and he believes that a legal remedy is required.
He suggested that one solution might be eliminate trucking's exemption from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Another problem, he said, is that the current system under-pays drivers for the most challenging part of their jobs - driving safely in bad weather and congested traffic.
And he believes that driver pay is key to solving the truckload industry's biggest problem: driver turnover. "Employees are not a throw-away commodity. Too often, they are treated in that way in trucking," he said.