A Guide To Safety & Incentives in the Trucking Industry

by Elyse Byers
3 min read
August 3, 2022

We need to keep everyone safe on roadways, and that means safety protocols for truckers. Another way to keep everyone safe? Incentives. 

Truck drivers looking out for trash on a roadway to win a cash prize might seem insignificant, but avoiding a blown tire saves hours of time — and that adds up. 

Recently on The Road Forward, we heard from Keith Sabel, Owner and President of Sabel Steel Service, about the steps he’s taking to integrate safety processes and the importance of incentives to his business.

Join us as we discuss what’s changed in regards to trucks, looking at safety financially, transportation logistics in a crisis, and what’s next for Keith and the business.

“Being a truck driver was looked down upon even though without truck drivers we'd all starve.
— Keith Sabel


Past & present changes with trucks

When you’ve run a trucking company for 21 years, you’ve seen a lot of change.

Keith’s leases run for six years, at which point the trucks are replaced with newer vehicles so that drivers are always sitting in good equipment.

“We also have many, many safety programs directed to all the workers but drivers in particular,” Keith said.

He handed out leather bomber-type jackets for drivers who caused no accidents and for employees who had worked at Sabel for 25+ years: a total of 43 jackets.

He raised the stop pay for drivers from $100 to $500 because there’s a lot of work involved.

Plus, things like driver training sessions and rewards for drivers who avoid accidents or are “caught” doing the right thing on camera.

Basically, Keith tries to bake a positive attitude toward safety into everything he does. After all, an accident will go into the books for sure, but an accident that was avoided should be recorded, too.

“Truck accidents, other than willful negligence, should be like workmans’ compensation.
— Keith Sabel


A legal & financial look at safety

“You can't put a price on things that haven't happened,” Keith said.

That’s the hardest part about prioritizing safety. When drivers are safe, there are fewer incidents.

In Alabama where Sabel Steel Service is headquartered, tort reform has not yet been implemented by legislatures. Instead? Lawsuits, appeals, and crazy high insurance rates.

If it’s not willful negligence, a truck accident should be like workmans’ comp with a table of payouts for various injuries or damage to keep cases out of court.

If a driver doing 100 mph slams into a school bus, yeah, the driver’s the cause. But if the truck is going the speed limit and the school bus pulls out in front of the driver, that is and must be a different story legally.

Financial incentives

The concept of incentives as motivators absolutely works. But what are we incentivizing?

If you pay people not to work, a lot of people won’t work, Keith pointed out. Same with lawsuits.

Same with salaries, for that matter. The price of hiring drivers has gone way up and will continue to do so until two things happen:

  • Market factors force supply to meet demand
  • Wages change people’s minds about driving as a great job

That is, provided the DOT and local laws adapt to transportation needs. (In Keith’s view, the age factor is far less helpful than an hour of extra service would be.)

A labor shortage will force better processes and other efficiencies to some degree, but you can’t optimize humans out of the driver’s seat entirely.

Transportation logistics in crisis

When Keith started in the scrap metals industry, bids were given at a lump sum price. Not going to fly.

Now it’s bid by the weight, which is a huge nationwide change.

After 51 years in steel, Keith has seen the scrap industry go from 99% shipped by rail to 99% shipped by truck.

“We redesigned our scrapyard not to exclude rail but to foster more and better truck loading and unloading,” he said.

“To perform our business function, we have to have trucks. There's no ifs, ands, or buts. Therefore, our efforts are to promote our ability to serve our customers and keep our people healthy and safe,” Keith said.

Yeah, but the price of fuel these days... In 2021, fuel cost Keith over half a million dollars.

That and the labor shortage have truly precipitated a crisis.

Something’s gotta give.

“I grew up in a world where incentives work.”
— Keith Sabel


Trucking in the near future

Here are some things Keith said he’d like to see.

  • Infrastructure to support electric trucks
  • Apps that modernize and optimize for drivers
  • Truck-only lanes
  • Legislation designed to reward driver safety

Keith plans to continue incentives like offering prize money for safety and implementing his Clean the Clutter campaign.

When drivers don’t run over trash and save hours not fixing flats, that’s for the betterment of the entire workforce. Warehouses with the best score win $1,000 for an employee lunch.

“All these things that we do are there to enhance our business model, which is service,” Keith said.

Get in touch with Keith on LinkedIn.

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