MTC research brief: Owner-Operator versus Company-Driver Safety Performance Analysis

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March 14, 2016

The Midwest Transportation Center (MTC) sponsors a competitive research program to fund projects focused on State of Good Repair in infrastructure with attention to safety and Data Driven Performance Measures for Enhanced Infrastructure Condition.

The following details one project led by Iowa State University. Stay up to date on research conducted by the MTC here.

Iowa State University

Owner-Operator versus Company-Driver Safety Performance Analysis  

Project PI: David Cantor

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported that, in 2013, more than 3,800 fatal crashes and 385,000 non-fatal crashes across the US involved at least one large truck or bus. While the FMCSA has implemented safety practices to reduce the number and severity of accidents, additional work needs to be pursued to improve the safety performance of US motor carriers.

Further research is needed to understand how motor carriers are affected by their use of owner-operators versus company drivers. This is a timely issue because carriers often remain competitive by outsourcing their driver and commercial motor vehicle equipment needs to third-party logistics providers to meet customer demands.

Meanwhile, previous research has found that the type of driver directly affects a firm’s safety performance. While company drivers have been found to have better safety performance than owner-operators, company drivers are actually involved in more crashes.

An owner-operator versus company-driver safety model is needed to enhance our understanding of how the FMCSA can continue to improve the safety performance of commercial motor carriers by exploring the extent to which a carrier’s use of owner-operators and/or company drivers affects safety performance (e.g., state-reportable crashes).

Some key findings of this research included the following:

  • Statistical support was found that as firm size increases, firms pursue organizational flexibility in terms of increased use of owner-operators. Anecdotal support in the trade press literature confirmed that some larger firms prefer outsourcing as a way to avoid vehicle maintenance responsibilities and gain access to modern equipment that can improve service quality and mitigate safety concerns.
  • The use of company drivers was found to negatively affect safety performance.
  • The effect of using company drivers on firm safety performance was found to vary across industry commodity segments.

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