Editor’s Note: This is the first of several stories based on a recent survey of readers of Truckers News and our sister publication for owner-operators Overdrive. Part one is an overview of responses and looks at how drivers perceive their jobs. We’ll also look at the biggest issue truckers addressed: driver compensation. The series will also take up drivers’ views about retirement and find out if they are prepared to hang up the keys.
More than half the truck drivers in a recent survey see their work as only a job with which to pay the bills, almost a third said they would like to get out of the industry, and the majority believe new trucking technology will be used to monitor and control them.
Those were three of the major findings from a survey of readers of Truckers News and Overdrive. The responses from 919 truckers — 589 company drivers (64%) and 330 leased owner-operators (36%) — also found:
- Most are especially concerned about making more money so they can pay their bills
- Many say government regulations make it hard to earn a living as a driver
- A lot see theirs as a thankless job, one that few others appreciate or respect
- The majority of drivers have not made plans to retire
- Most believe new technology will make trucks easier to drive so driver pay will go down
- Over two-thirds said a comfortable seat is the most important feature in the truck they drive
It oughtn’t come as any surprise that many drivers were not wildly thrilled with their chosen job. Recent Bureau of Labor Statistics found truck driving was about as dangerous a job as one could choose. In April, USA Today reported that truck driving was ranked 17th among the worst jobs in the U.S. based on job stress, satisfaction, safety, pay, future job prospects, and job security. And, a recent Gallup poll found fully 44% of Americans consider their jobs as “mediocre” and another 16% said their job was downright “bad.”
That Gallup poll also found a strong connection between what people earn and how they feel about their jobs. In short, the more they make, the more they like their jobs. That also provides insight into how truckers feel about the work they do. Responses to several questions create the overarching finding of the survey: truckers feel they don’t get paid enough. Just 23% of all truckers — less than one in four — said they got into the industry to earn good money and tend to the needs of their families They also think low pay is why trucking companies have problems recruiting and retaining drivers.
That also reflects findings in the annual industry survey of critical issues conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute and released last fall. Truckers responding to the survey ranked driver compensation as the number one issue facing the industry. That compares to trucker pay not even being in the top 10 issues as voted on by trucking companies, which rated the driver shortage first and driver retention second.
Results of the survey paint a picture of the American trucker at the beginning of a new decade. More than half drive over-the-road, almost two-thirds have been in the industry 20 years or more and the majority drove between 75,000 and 125,000 miles in 2019 and. And, here’s why pay may be of such concern: 63% earned $75,000 or less last year for a difficult, demanding job.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the responses of the Truckers News/Overdrive survey.
We asked: Why did you get into trucking?
- I was always drawn to the open road: 31% (company drivers 32%, leased o-o 29%)
- Good salary/way to provide for my family: 23% (company drivers 25%, leased o-o 19%)
- I didn’t want a boss looking over my shoulder every day: 18% (company drivers 16%, leased o-o 22%)
- My family was in the business: 18% (company drivers 16%, leased o-o 22%)
- It was a job of last resort: 10% (company drivers 11%, leased o-o 9%)
We asked: What is the one thing you dislike most about your job today?
- Regulations make it harder to work and make a living: 40% (company drivers 36%, leased o-o 47%)
- It’s a thankless job — nobody respects truckers or appreciates what we do: 20% (company drivers 22%, leased o-o 17%)
- Nothing. I like my job and have no complaints: 13% (company drivers 14%, leased o-o 10%)
- I’m not making enough money: 12% (company drivers 12%, leased o-o 11%)
- My family life is strained because I am never home: 6% (company drivers 7%, leased o-o 5%)
- Complexity that comes with using new technology. Just let me drive: 4% (company drivers 4%, leased o-o 5%)
- Driving has been bad for my health: 4% (company drivers 4%, leased o-o 4%)
- I’m not getting enough miles/loads: 1% (company drivers 1%, leased o-o 1%)
We asked: What are your top three concerns right now?
- #1. Paying my bills each month: 37% (company drivers 39% , leased o-o 37%)
- #2. My health: 17% (company drivers 16%, leased o-o 18%)
- #3. Home time and my family life: 13% (company drivers 14%, leased o-o 10%)
We asked: What would be the main reason you would consider changing jobs and driving for another fleet?
- They offered me more money: 37% (company drivers 38%, leased o-o 35%)
- They showed me they appreciate the work I do and have a team atmosphere: 19% (company drivers 18%, leased o-o 22%)
- They offered me my choice of routes and hauls: 19% (company drivers 18%, leased o-o 20%)
- They offered me more home time: 13% (company drivers 14%, leased o-o 12%)
We asked: How do you feel about your long-term prospects of driving a truck?
- Good — I’ll keep making more money each year: 35% (company drivers 36%, leased o-o 33%)
- Fair — It’s a job and I pay the bills: 54% (company drivers 53%, leased o-o 56%)
- Bad — I need to find another job: 11% (company drivers 11%, leased o-o 12%)
We asked: What do you see for the future of your trucking career?
- I’m happy driving for a fleet — as long as my pay increases every year: 34% (company drivers 45%, leased o-o 14%)
- I’d like to get out of trucking: 32% (company drivers 24%, leased o-o 50%)
- I’d like to move into a non-driving job with a fleet (company drivers 12%, leased o-o 10%)
- I’d like to buy my own truck and become an owner-operator: 12% (company drivers 9%, leased o-o 11%)
- I don’t think I have a long-term career. This is just a job: 10% (company drivers 10%, leased o-o 14%)
We asked: What do you think of the future of truck driving?
- I think new technology will make it easier for fleets to monitor and control drivers: 53% (company drivers 52%, leased o-o 55%)
- I think new technology will make trucks easier to drive and driver pay will go down as a result: 30% (company drivers 29%, leased o-o 32%)
- I think new technology will make the job easier and safer for drivers: 17% (company drivers 20%, leased o-o 12%)
- I think new technology will make trucks more expensive and more valuable assets and driver pay will go up as a result: 12% (company drivers 12%, leased o-o 12%)
We asked: What type of driving do you do
- Over-the-road (long haul): 56% (company drivers 46%, leased o-o 74%)
- Regional: 39% (company drivers 41% , leased o-o 34%)
- Dedicated: 20% (company drivers 25%, leased o-o 11%)
- Pickup and delivery: 18% (company drivers 22%, leased o-o 11%)
- Less-than-truckload: 11% (company drivers 11%, leased o-o 11%)
- Team: 5% (company drivers 4%, leased o-o 6%)
- Intermodal: 4% (company drivers 3%, leased o-o 6%)
We asked: How many miles did you drive last year?
- 75,000 or less: 21% (company drivers 24%, leased o-o 14%)
- 75,001 to 100,000: 26% (company drivers 25%, leased o-o 28%)
- 100,001 to 125,000: 26% (company drivers 25%, leased o-o 29%)
- 125,001 to 150,000: 19% (company drivers 18%, leased o-o 20%)
- More than 150,000: 8% (company drivers 8%, leased o-o 9%)
We asked: How long have you been a truck driver?
- More than 20 years: 63% (company drivers 62%, leased o-o 67%)
- 16 to 20 years: 10% (company drivers 11%, leased o-o 9%)
- 11-15 years: 10% (company drivers 10%, leased o-o 10%)
- 6 to 10 years: 11% (company drivers 11%, leased o-o 9%)
- 5 years or less: 6% (company drivers 6%, leased o-o 5%)
We asked: What was your net income last year?
- More than $100,000: 12% (company drivers 4%, leased o-o 27%)
- $75,001 to $100,000: 25% (company drivers 25%, leased o-o 25%)
- $50,001 to $75,000: 38% (company drivers 45%, leased o-o 24%)
- $35,001 to $50,000: 18% (company drivers 20%, leased o-o 14)
- $35,000 or less: 7% (company drivers 6%, leased o-o 9%)
David Hollis is the editor of Truckers News and may be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org