When the talk in trucking turns to ways of finding and keeping good drivers long-term, Brent Bergevin, vice president of transportation for tanker fleet Gemini Motor Transport believes in a simple philosophy: go big – especially in terms of safety bonuses.

Owned by Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, Gemini employs 900 drivers and operates 570 trucks and tanker trailers that keep Love’s 380 locations in 40 states topped off with diesel and gasoline.

Five years ago, Gemini decided to do something a little different: offer a combination safety and longevity bonus that could be worth up to half a driver’s annual pay. The way it works is simple: Credits are awarded to Gemini’s drivers on an annual basis, and to earn one credit, they must have no accidents, tickets or fuel-related incidents over the period of one year. They must also pass all U.S. Department of Transportation and Gemini inspections. Once drivers collect five credits, they’re eligible to receive a bonus.

And what a bonus it is: a check that can range from $25,000 to $35,000. In fact, Gemini recently paid out $3.4 million in bonuses to its inaugural class of 135 “Safe Driver” recipients.

“We spent between six and seven weeks earlier this year traveling the country, handing out their checks – making sure we invited driver families and friends to the ceremony as well,” Bergevin told Fleet Owner. “We’re rewarding both safety and longevity in a big way: in a way that drivers can then fund college for their kids, pay off a house, or take a dream vacation.”

He added that the “word of mouth” that spreads from programs like Gemini’s “Safe Driver” is priceless as well.

“And when their families saw those checks, it almost guaranteed that they [the drivers] would roll a lot more years with us,” Bergevin explained. “Rewarding drivers for their safety-first mentality has tremendously helped with driver retention. Since implementing the safe driver credits in 2011, our turnover has dropped significantly and is extremely low for the industry. That’s why there is tremendous value in this [safety program] for us.”

He pointed out that an additional 104 Gemini drivers are on track to receive their five-year payout in 2017, with the carrier poised to pay out safe driver credits at 10 years beginning in 2021.

Gemini’s “Safe Driver” program is but one example of the growing effort among motor carriers to provide news and different benefits in order to attract and retain good drivers – and such programs seem to be gaining favor.

In-cab satellite TV provider EpicVue recently conducted one-on-one informal conversations with 138 drivers at truck stops across North America and while pay remains “top of mind” for truck drivers, Lance Platt, EpicVue’s CEO, noted that “perks” ranging from health care benefits to vacation time and larger sleeper cabs are becoming more important especially to younger drivers.

“Money is top of mind for all drivers,” Platt said in a statement. “But perks play a pivotal role in attracting drivers to carriers. Perks were rated highest by Millennials, were a dominant factor for Gen X’ers, followed by company reputation, and narrowly outweighed location as the top priority among Baby Boomers, who also still considered company reputation significant.”

EpicVue segmented the driver’s participating in the survey out into different categories. In terms of age, 13 were Millennials (20’s and early 30’s), 72 were Generation X’ers (late 30’s and 40’s) and 53 were Baby Boomers (50’s and 60’s). In terms of experience, only six were rookies (drivers with just one to three months experience) while 30 drivers sported 3 to 12 months experience and 102 drivers had over one year of experience. In terms of motor carrier size, some 14 of the drivers polled worked for small fleets (20 to 99 trucks), 76 for mid-size fleets (100 to 499 trucks) and 48 for large fleets (500 or more trucks).

For survey purposes, Platt noted that “perks” were defined as things like a 401(k), health care, larger cabs, satellite TV and radio, vacation time, updated in-cab equipment and incentives.

“When it comes to driver loyalty, communication and respect are noticeably rated low as factors for Millennials but are dominant among Gen X’ers, and loyalty is the most significant for Baby Boomers,” he emphasized, also pointing out that finding Millennials who are working as truck drivers was a challenge.

“The small percentage of Millennials in our latest survey accurately reflects the population of drivers in that age bracket,” Platt said. “It also clearly shows how important it is for trucking companies to focus on Millennials when attracting new drivers by addressing the issues that are most important to them.”

In terms of “communication” pathways for drivers, EpicVue found that the defining factors were feeling valued by the company through e-mail, online forums, calls, texts and other messages, and maintaining contact to show interest in a driver’s well-being, returning calls, responding to questions, problems or concerns in a timely manner, asking for advice and opinions from drivers when issues arise, and listening to drivers.

EpicVue’s survey defined “respect” as honesty in all dealings and listening when a driver expresses a concern, recognizing a driver’s time and experience, remembering special dates and anniversaries and showing acts of appreciation for something the driver does, as well as providing job advancement opportunities.

The bottom to any of that, though, is to reward safe drivers and ensure that they remain on the road long-term with a carrier, stressed Gemini’s Bergevin.

“Our drivers average 3,000 hours behind the wheel each year, so for our 135 “Safe Driver” program drivers, that totals more than 2 million hours of safe driving over the last five years,” he said. “Our drivers’ dedication keeps them and everyone else on the road safe. And it also keeps our CSA [Compliance Safety Accountability] scores extremely low – that’s just huge for us; a big, big deal.”

This story was originally published at Fleet Owner