A British truck driver who's worked in the US for a decade says the biggest problem with trucking in America comes down to how drivers are paid

Jack Taylor/Getty ImagesThere’s a key difference between trucking in the US and England — and it changes everything for how truckers earn a livelihood.
  • Mick Flynn is a truck driver and photographer from England.
  • He has spent the past decade trucking in Canada and the United States, as well as working in England.
  • He shared with Business Insider his thoughts on what could be fixed in North American trucking. Namely, he said truckers are overworked because they’re paid by the mile, not by the hour.

When snowstorms would hit Mick Flynn’s native England, he and his fellow truckers would pull over.

“Most sensible people parked over somewhere and enjoyed a nice cup of coffee,” Flynn told Business Insider.

However, he said that’s not the case in the US and Canada, where Flynn has driven on and off for the past decade, and that “you’re expected to carry on.”

That’s because of a major flaw that Flynn and many others see in the American system of driving: Truckers are paid by the mile, not by the hour.

And they’re allowed to work more hours per day – British drivers are capped at nine hours, but American truckers may drive up to 11 hours. (In a 2015 survey, nearly a quarter of drivers said they “frequently or always” exceeded the 11-hour limit to earn more money.)

Mick Flynn HeadshotCourtesy of Mick Flynn

“In England, if the roads are icy, cars pull over because you’re still going to get paid,” Flynn said. “If we pulled over in the US or Canada, we’re not earning anything. So we were driving in worse weather than we would in the UK.”

A US rule that went into effect in December may help curb this. The electronic-logging-device mandate is designed to make it impossible for drivers to work more hours than the legal limit. It has allowed some truckers’ salaries to increase and has been estimated to prevent more than 2,000 crashes annually.

But the ELD mandate hasn’t curbed what many see as a larger problem for truckers: the lack of detention pay. That means drivers can wait for hours to unload or receive their goods at shipping docks and not be paid for any of it.

“Driver detention is an urgent issue that must be addressed by our industry. It’s a matter of fairness,” said Don Thornton, a senior vice president at the freight marketplace DAT Solutions. “Many shippers and receivers are lax about their dock operations, but it’s the carriers and drivers who are forced to pay for that inefficiency.”

Nearly two-thirds of carriers said in a DAT Solutions survey that they or their employees had been regularly detained at docks for more than three hours, but only 3% said they received payment most of the time from the shipping companies for keeping their workers waiting.

“In England, we wouldn’t tolerate that,” Flynn said. “You would sit there for 10 hours sometimes … We would be available for work but sitting all day long.”

It ultimately makes earning an income unstable for American and Canadian drivers, Flynn said.

“In England, if you take on a job and it’s 60 hours a week, you know at the end at the of week how much you’re going to be paid, because you’re going to be paid for 60 hours,” Flynn said.

But because he and his wife lived in his truck, Flynn managed to save a lot of money as a North American trucker, he said, adding that he also had valuable cultural experiences through meeting a number of Americans.

“It’s exciting, and it’s interesting, and the scene is beautiful, but it’s not the healthiest lifestyle,” Flynn said. “All I did was drive and sleep.”

If you are a truck driver with industry information to share, please email the author at [email protected]

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