Company drivers value job stability, income, benefits over other factors, ATRI study finds

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Updated Dec 6, 2021

A recent study by the American Transportation Research Institute into truck drivers’ motivations for choosing a particular employment status – either company driver or independent contractor/owner-operator – found that fleets should consider bolstering healthcare and retirement savings options when looking to recruit and retain company drivers. The full survey report can be downloaded on ATRI's website

A total of 2,097 truck drivers responded to ATRI’s survey, which was open from Aug. 18 through Sept. 17. The majority of respondents (66.2%) where either owner-operators leased to a carrier or owner-operators with their own authority. The remaining 33.8% of respondents were company drivers.

The study found that the top motivations for drivers choosing to be company drivers were: Job Security/Stability, Income, and Healthcare/Retirement Savings.

Among company driver respondents to the survey, Healthcare/Retirement Savings had the largest gap between drivers who indicated it was an important motivating factor (79.1%) and subsequent high levels of satisfaction since becoming a company driver (59.5%).

ATRI also noted that healthcare and retirement savings should be emphasized as the trucking industry looks to recruit more female drivers. Among female company driver respondents, 84.3% indicated healthcare and retirement as being an important motiving factor, with 68.6% of female drivers indicating satisfaction in that area.

When looking at compensation, the survey asked drivers how they are paid, then their satisfaction with their income. For company drivers, 73.5% who are paid by the hour reported being “Very Satisfied/Satisfied” with their income and 66.1% who are paid by the mile report being “Very Satisfied/Satisfied” with their income.

Company drivers were also asked if they aspired to become owner-operators, and fewer than one in five indicated that desire. Among those who did want to become owner-operators, however, 84.9% believed they would see an increase in income, and 71.4% expected to see an increase in job satisfaction.

However, less than a third of company drivers who indicated they had been owner-operators in the past indicated that their income had decreased since becoming a company driver, and only 20.3% indicated that their job satisfaction had decreased.

The top motivating factors for why drivers made the decision to become owner-operators all had to do with freedom and independence. The top factors were: Independence/Ability to Set Hours, Schedule/Flexibility, and Choice of Routes/Length of Haul.

Among owner-operators, Healthcare/Retirement Savings ranked as the lowest motivating factor with fewer than 40% of respondents ranking it as important.

One motivator for individuals to choose to be an owner-operator leased to a carrier, ATRI found, is the opportunity to leverage the carrier’s resources and buying power to access things like fuel, equipment and administrative services. Among leased owner-operators, the most frequently cited programs from carriers they participated in were acquiring loads, fuel purchases/discounts, fuel taxes, and insurance.

Owner-operators indicated strong satisfaction with two pay methods – percentage of freight bill and per load. Among respondents who were paid by percentage of the freight bill, 80.8% reported being “Very Satisfied/Satisfied” with their income level. Among those paid on a per-load basis, 81.1% reported being “Very Satisfied/Satisfied” with their income.

If legislation to phase out leased owner-operators, such as California’s AB 5 law, are implemented, owner-operators responded that they would experience significant decreases in job satisfaction and annual income if reclassified to company drivers.