Welcome to our new series in which we find out what's on truckers' minds

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Updated Jan 17, 2023
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Late last year, Truckers News and our sister publication Overdrive surveyed our combined readership asking a series of questions to find out what drivers want.

Those questions covered topics as diverse as their pay and benefits, to how they feel about autonomous vehicles, and how they view their future and that of the industry as a whole.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll examine their answers and share some of their comments on the various topics we take up.

In this first installment of our series What Drivers Want, we look at why they got into the industry in the first place, and what irks them about their jobs. We’ll also find out what would make them change jobs.

But first, here’s a bit about the folks who responded to our survey.

A total of 812 drivers responded to our survey; 566 company drivers and 246 leased owner-operators. Most – 53% – are over-the-road long-haul drivers.

These are mostly veteran drivers, part of the mature cadre of truckers many in the industry worry will soon begin entertaining thoughts of retirement. Fully 72% of respondents are 55 years old or older; 27% are between the ages of 35 and 54 while just 2% are 34 and younger. 

Respondents are also drivers who have spent much of their lives on the road: 69% said they have driven for 20 years or more; 8% have driven 16 to 20 years; 6% for 11 to 15 years; 8% 6 to 10 years; and 7% for 5 years or less.

They are also serious road warriors with the miles to prove it. Twenty-six percent said they drive between 100,001 and 125,000 miles a year and the same number typically log from 75,001 to 100,000 miles. Another 17% drove between 125,001 and 150,000 miles and 8% logged over 150,00.

And, what did they get for all those miles?

Slightly more than half – 53% – said they earned a net income of over $75,001 in the last year; 31% earned $75,001 and $100,000 and 22% said they earned $100,000 or more.

That’s a snapshot of the drivers who responded to our survey. Now let’s look at what they said in response to our questions.

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Why do truckers do what they do?

 In this installment of our What Drivers Want series, we’re addressing why they do what they do, what they dislike about their jobs, and what would make them change jobs.

We asked, “Why did you get into trucking?” and gave them five possible answers to choose from:

  • 34% chose “I was always drawn to the open road.”
  • 20% chose “My family was in the business.”
  • 18% chose “Good salary/way to provide for my family.”
  • 15% chose “I didn’t want a boss looking over my shoulder every day.”
  • 10% chose “It was a job of last resort.”

It was older drivers who said they were drawn by open road: 36% 55 years old and older and 31% between the ages of 35 and 54. This response was chosen by almost an equal number of company drivers (34%) and leased owner-operators (35%).

We also gave respondents the opportunity to comment on their responses. Here’s a sampling of what drivers said:

“I started because no other job. Fell in love with it after

“Kept seeing on the news that there was a shortage of truck drivers so I decided to switch careers.”

“Tired of the layoffs in the oilfield.”

“I worked construction till the Reagan recession hit.”

“Former convicted felon, could not find work due to same. Got my CDL and the rest is history.”

“Got diesel in my blood as a baby; grew up riding with dad in a cabover Mack.”

“I started class B driving school bus then seeing big trucks with no screaming kids made me go bigger.”

“Steady work, paid training and it was a second career.”

“I got into (the) business because of the freedom, but now I feel all of that is progressively being taken away.”

“I had no job and no car. Without a car, I couldn't get a job; without a job, I couldn't get a car. When I saw an ad for driving school, I saw a solution.”

“Found it hard to find a good paying job at 45. Was in management in most of my jobs, but when I was unemployed and looking for work I learned that a lot of employers wanted younger men, because they could pay less. Trucking seemed the only place I found I could make decent money.”

What thorns are in the sides of truckers?

As good a job as trucking is for many drivers who have stayed with it for many years, we also know it’s no bed of roses. For all the good the profession has, it also is far from without its faults.

To find out more, we asked, “What is the one thing you dislike most about your job today?” We gave them these possible answers and here’s how they responded:

  • 35% said, “Regulations make it harder to work and make a living.”
  • 20% said, “It's a thankless job - nobody respects truckers or appreciates what we do.”
  • 14% said, “Nothing. I like my job and have no complaints.”
  • 9% said, “I'm not making enough money.”
  • 9% said, “Complexity that comes with using new technology. Just let me drive.”
  • 6% said, “My family life is strained because I'm never home.”
  • 6% said, “Driving has been bad for my health.”
  • 1%  said, “I'm not getting enough miles/loads.”

Significantly more leased owner-operators (46%) complained about burdensome regulations than did company drivers (30%). However, when it came to the age of respondents answering this question it was the younger drivers who complained about regulations. Over half – 55% – of drivers up to the age of 34 said they most disliked regulations; 40% of drivers ages 35 to 54 complained about them; while just 33% of drivers 55 and older disliked them most. 

Only slightly more company drivers (21%) than leased owner-operators (19%) agreed with the sentiment that trucking today is a thankless job that lacks respect.

It was also the drivers up to the age of 34 who most agreed – 27% – that what they most dislike about their job is the lack of respect. Just 19% of drivers between the ages of 35 and 54 lamented the lack of respect and just 20% of respondents who were 55 and older chose that answer.

Interestingly, no driver under the age of 35 agreed with the answer, “Nothing. I like my job and have no complaints,” while 10% of those 35-54 and 15% of those over 55 years old agreed with the sentiment.

Respondents also had an opportunity to comment on this question. Here are a few of their responses:

“Trucking Industry has gone downhill. No respect amongst the drivers themselves, or even the companies that most work for.”

“The government is constantly looking for ways to make the industry harder and less attractive.”

“I think crash mitigation systems are dangerous. A car cut right in front of me and brakes locked up in the middle lane on the DC beltway. Luckily traffic was light due to the late hour and no one rear-ended me. I understand what they are for: morons that fall asleep at the wheel. I have even had brakes come on when nothing was there.”

“Other than the fact that there are a lot more undertrained drivers on the road now. Not sure how some of them can pass a road skills test.”

“Love my job (but) hate what this industry has become.”

“FMCSA regs and city, county, state, company policies have forced me to make a decision to retire early. Parking problems and drivers blocking up fuel islands. Safety issues for my life and the speed limit in my truck is maxed at 65 mph. All this keeps me stressed out too much. Dealing with aggressive auto and big truck drivers is all too much too.”

“Too many truck drivers that are negative for our industry. No courtesy or concerns for anyone except themselves. Parking on fuel island, blocking (the) passing lane, staying in middle lane, etc.”

“ELD particularly forces one to push harder to maintain productivity, proposed speed limiter reg will increase pressure to wring every possible mile out of every possible minute. Hardly a recipe for a relaxed, patient approach to maintaining public safety and getting from point A to point B.”

“Driving is easy, but being in the truck for weeks is not easy and OTR drivers need better pay.”

“I have been over the road more than 50 years. I have a very good driving record. I don’t need someone to tell (me) when I need a break or how long a break I need.”

“What I *really* dislike is the increasing danger from other drivers- trucks and cars.  From drivers changing lanes far too soon to them hugging the fog line where truckers are throwing chains, it's notably much more dangerous than it was 4-5 years ago.  Enough so that economics aside I'm considering other kinds of jobs.”

What makes drivers change jobs?

So, there is no shortage of frustrations truckers encounter in their chosen profession. But, we wanted to know what would make them actually change jobs.

To find out more, we asked, “What would be the main reason you would consider changing jobs and driving for another fleet?” Drivers could choose one answer and, not surprisingly, here’s how they replied:

  • 35% chose “They offered me more money.”
  • 21% chose “They offered me my choice of routes and hauls.”
  • 21% chose “They showed they appreciate the work I do and have a team atmosphere.”
  • 14% chose “They offered me more time at home.”
  • 4% chose “They offered me a clear career path.”
  • 2% chose “They offered a big sign-on bonus.”
  • 2% chose “They offered me more miles/loads.”
  • 2% chose “They offered me a new/newer truck.”

The exact same percentage of company drivers and leased owner-operators – 35% – said they’d switch jobs for more money. 

The only choice where the two types of drivers truly diverged was on the answer, “They offered me my choice of routes and hauls. Twenty-five percent of leased owner-operators chose that option while 20% of company drivers made that choice.

When it came to drivers of various ages, it was younger drivers (up to 34 years) who said they’d switch for more money – 45% – compared to 42% of drivers 35 to 54 years old and just 32% of drivers 55 years of age and older.

The biggest difference between the choice of answers came when drivers chose ““They showed they appreciate the work I do and have a team atmosphere.” as their reason to leave. Fully 36% of drivers up to 34 years chose that as their reason to leave. That compares to 21% of drivers 35 to 54 years old, and 20% of drivers 55 and over.  

Drivers had plenty to say about why they’d jump from one company to another. Here are a few of their comments:

“The company I'm leased to is a perfect fit for me, good money,  and I choose where I go and home time for as long as I want.”

“Money is important too but respect is more scarce than money. Also no  governor on (the) truck.”

“It's all about the space between the ears: train 'em, respect them, pay fair wages, make them family, don't destroy the driver when mistakes happen, make them want to be there.”

“More money, more support, more loads, and tell me the truth.”

“Extras such as SiriusXM and wifi in the trucks are just as nice as pay.”

“The money would have to be a weekly minimum set rate, my bills don't fluctuate and my pay shouldn't either.”

“I would never consider driving for a fleet. If I was to not be an o/o I might choose a smaller trucking company but never a huge fleet.”

“Dollars talk. it is an inescapable conclusion whether you are a (company) driver or O/O.”

“They don't show racism to me and treat me like a human being like I am.”

“Better health insurance for the family would be my number 1 choice”

“It's not always about the money. But that has a lot to do with it,  but when you feel like you are appreciated and are a part of the business, not just a body in the seat, and feel like you can grow with the company.”