Research and Analysis
Trucks transport everything we buy—whether it is the cargo arriving from Taiwan at the Port of Long Beach or a book ordered from Amazon or the lettuce for our salad. In fact, most goods travel on more one than truck.
Dr. Belzer's research is about the trucking industry: the physical infrastructure needed for transportation, the safety of our highways, the working lives truck drivers, and the policy and economic conditions underlying each of these areas.
He is uniquely qualified to understand these issues. After being an over-the-road truck driver for ten years and more than 750,000 miles, he went to Cornell University for a PhD, and is now a Professor of Economics at Wayne State University. He has experienced the lived conditions of being a trucker and he understands the economics of the industry.
Dr. Belzer's 50 years immersed in the industry has led him to understand the importance of "safe rates." A “safe rate” is the amount a driver must earn per hour to tip the balance toward safety and leisure from dangerously long driving hours. Think of it as a minimum labor standard, or a “fair labor standard” in American parlance.
Drivers are under incredible economic pressure to work long hours. Long-haul truck drivers are paid per-mile which means drivers have an incentive to drive faster and work longer—directly counter to what is needed for safety. Further compounding the incentive for unsafe working hours, most drivers are not paid for loading, unloading, and other non-driving time, which averages roughly 25% of their working time. That additional unpaid time only further urges drivers toward unsafe and unhealthy practices, and contributes to inefficiency in the American supply chain.
Dr. Belzer’s “safe rates” analysis reveals that higher driver per-mile pay and payment for all working time would significantly improve truck driver working conditions, health, and highway safety.
The last few years have revealed that the global supply chain relies heavily on the availability of truck drivers. Dr. Belzer’s research has shown that there is no shortage of workers qualified to be truck drivers—rather the issue is driver recruiting and retention. Long-haul truck drivers are away from home for an average of three weeks at a time to do a dangerous job on an unpredictable schedule with insufficient pay to maintain a stable workforce. It is increasingly difficult to convince workers that being a trucker is worth the sacrifice.
Dr. Belzer is committed to making his work available to a diverse array of audiences, including government officials, academics, industry leaders, the public, as well truck drivers themselves. He is a frequent source for the news media.
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An overview of the economic structures, government regulations, and health and safety factors necessary to understand the trucking industry.
To earn a living wage, most truckers drive and work far more hours than are safe and legal. Highway safety can be improved with policy changes and economic incentives centered on "safe rates."
Truck drivers’ long working hours and intense economic pressure are important to everyday motorists because the truck driver’s workplace is everyone’s roadway. Safety for everyone is improved when driver pay and working conditions are improved.
Labor standards dictate what is legally considered "work" and how many hours truckers can "work." The Fair Labor Standards Act—which gives almost every American production worker a 40-hour work week and a minimum wage—does not fully apply to truck drivers working for firms engaged in interstate commerce. Making the Fair Labor Standards Act applicable to all truck drivers would resolve this injustice while making our highways safer, our truckers healthier, and our supply chain efficient.
There is an adage in economics: “People will consume an infinite amount of a free good.” Shippers and consignees treat trucking resources as free goods, causing expensive and inefficient supply chain delays. The right economic incentives would change the behavior of everyone in the supply chain: shipping and receiving companies, trucking companies, and truck drivers could all be motivated to efficiently and safely deliver goods.
Dr. Belzer's research has been funded by federal, academic, industry, and international organizations.