Large truckload carriers had a slightly easier time holding onto truck drivers in the fourth quarter, with rising tonnage likely translating into more miles and pay.
The driver turnover rate at large fleets dropped one percentage point from the third quarter to 88 percent, the American Trucking Associations said Wednesday.
That slight pullback followed several sequential quarterly increases in driver turnover since the rate bottomed out at 39 percent in the first quarter of 2010.
For all of 2011, the large truckload turnover rate averaged 83 percent, the highest average since 2007 when driver churn at large carriers averaged 117 percent.
The turnover rate rose 14 percentage points in the first ninemonths of 2011 alone.
The number of heavy truck or tractor-trailer drivers employed increased last year for the first time since 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“This reprieve, while surprising, is likely temporary,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. As the economy recovers, the driver market will tighten, he said.
Competition for truck drivers among truckload carriers, especially larger companies, will put the driver turnover rate back on an upward track, he said.
Truckload firms with less than $30 million in annual revenue have an easier time keeping drivers. Their fourth quarter turnover rate dropped from 57 to 55 percent.
Driver turnover — the constant churn of truckers leaving for jobs with other carriers — is a high-cost problem for truckload fleets, especially larger carriers.
That turnover rate peaked at 136 percent in 2005, and cost carriers about $500 million a year at its worst as they struggled to replace drivers, Costello said.
It can cost $5,000 to recruit a driver. At that rate, a carrier with 500 drivers and an 88 percent turnover rate would spend $2.2 million to keep its capacity constant.
Like the so-called driver shortage, high driver turnover is largely a truckload problem. Less-than-truckload carriers have a turnover rate of 7 percent, ATA said.
As freight demand increases, truckload companies offer higher per mile pay, more incentives and offer signing bonuses to attract experienced drivers.