The People Behind the Wheel

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New MTI research explores policy changes, job characteristics, and social stressors driving turnover among California truck drivers
July 10, 2019
San José, CA

Trucking is a critical link in today’s supply chains and global economy, but industry has struggled to attract and retain drivers. In order to help trucking companies in their quest to reduce driver turnover, MTI researchers, Drs. Jessica Robinson and Jeff Bentley, delved into the psychological processes of being a California truck driver in “The People Behind the Wheel: Exploring Policy Changes, Job Characteristics, and Social Stressors Driving Turnover Among California Truck Drivers.”

The three-part study collected longitudinal data, or the same data collected at different points in time, on drivers’ perception of policy changes, job characteristics, and social stressors and then examined how job performance and retention decisions were influenced by those perceptions.

The research found that national policy changes, such as Hours of Service (HOS) and Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandates, are a significant source of stress for California truck drivers in the form of job burnout; while state level policy changes do not seem to be a source of stress.

“When drivers feel that they are not equipped to do their job well, they are more likely to leave their current employer,” says Robinson.

Based on their findings, Drs. Robinson and Bentley provide the following policy recommendations to retain truck drivers:

  1. Supervisors and mangers of trucking companies should offer support to drivers in order to help lower job burnout stress related to national transportation policy changes and to watch for feelings of professional inefficiency in their drivers in order to respond to them constructively (i.e. via training and support).
  2. Transportation companies should monitor the working conditions of their drivers, and take action to either improve conditions or offer drivers means of coping with them. In addition, allowing truck drivers to have some influence on operational decisions, responsibilities, and/or independence while at their workplace makes for a more rewarding work environment.
  3. Companies should respect truck drivers’ attachment to their profession and offer them ways to feel positive about work. Encouraging drivers to feel pride for their profession and develop their abilities in that domain will boost driver performance.


At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nation's’ transportation system through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer. We help create a connected world. MTI was founded in 1991 and is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants. MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.


Dr. Jessica L. Robinson is an Assistant Professor of Supply Chain Management (SCM) at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). Prior to graduate school, Dr. Robinson worked for a 3PL on the domestic supply chain and then international supply chain for General Motors. Dr. Jeffrey R. Bentley is an Assistant Professor of Human Resource Management at CSULB. His research explores how people see themselves at work, the effects of various identities on workplace behavior, as well as how workers cope with the toxic side of organizational life. 


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