Despite headwinds, most drivers expect to make the same or more money this year

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Updated Jul 3, 2024

What do drivers want? Find out in this webinar.

What do truck drivers want? That's the million dollar question; a code that only a few carriers have managed to crack consistently.

In partnership with Lytx, CCJ this spring surveyed its company driver and leased owner operator audiences to find out what makes them tick (and what ticks them off).

Join us for a live webinar Aug. 1 at 1 p.m. CT and hear from two successful fleets – Garner Trucking (a perennial CarriersEdge Best Fleet to Drive For) and Crawford Trucking (a new carrier to crack the Best Fleets list) – as we discuss how they balance the wants and needs of new and existing drivers within their operations. Joining the discussion will be Elroy Whyte, himself a professional driver.

Despite a trucking and economic climate that's put prosperity out of reach for many trucking companies, more than half of all respondents to CCJ's What Drivers Want survey, conducted in partnership with Lytx, said they expect to make about the same amount of money this year that they did in 2023 (39%), or make more money this year versus last (22%). Another 39% said they expected to make less money this year based on the number of miles/loads over the first five months this year. 

Company drivers were far more optimistic about their year-end earnings than leased owner operators. More than half (52%) of surveyed leased drivers expected to net fewer dollars this year compared to 32% for company drivers. 

"Wages are way too stagnant, and far, far behind inflation of the last 30 years," said Tyler Ashcroft, a regional company driver with more than 20 years experience. "Most carriers seem to be having a race to the bottom if you factor inflation."

Regional company driver Charles Walker added that last year he received a wage increase, "but with inflation it was a waste of time."

While it has eased some recently, inflation and its influence on consumer spending was not lost on CCJ's driver audience, nor was basic business economics. 

"Rates are 30% lower. Fuel is up 20%," noted leased owner operator Jack Mancini. 

Higher trucking costs and lower pay is a double-edged sword as drivers are consumers, too.

[Want to see the entire What Drivers Want survey results? Sign up for the webinar (even if you can't make it) and we'll send it to you!]

"Food... (and other) expenses are very high," added company driver Ramon Trevino. 

The Operational Costs of Trucking: 2024 Update, compiled by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) and released last month, showed driver wagers were up 2.5 cents per mile last year versus the year before. 

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Truckload fleets with more than 1,000 trucks paid the highest driver wages, according to ATRI, at $0.877 cents per mile. This fleet size group also saw the largest increase in wages compared to 2022, when they paid $0.772 per mile on average. Truckload fleets with fewer than 26 trucks saw a slight dip in wages compared to 2022, suggesting that small fleets in this sector felt the greatest economic pressure from low freight rates. The remaining fleet size groups in the Truckload sector saw slight increases year-over-year, ranging from one to two cents per mile. 

Average driver pay rose significantly among LTL carriers from 78.0 cents in 2022 to 92.0 cents per mile, and LTL driver wages were thus the largest contributor to the increase in ATRI's industry-wide average. Overall, driver wages across all sectors grew by 7.6% between 2022 and 2023, ATRI found. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded a comparable 5.5% increase in truck driver wages during the same period.

According to respondents to CCJ's survey, 47% of company drivers said they had not received a pay raise in the last two years, compared to 79% of leased drivers. 

Among the drivers surveyed by CCJ who expect to make more money this year than 2023, 35% are driving more miles/hauling more loads, and 27% said their carrier instituted a pay raise (27% saw a per mile increase, and 22% a guarantee/bonus). The majority of drivers who claimed to be driving more miles or hauling more loads were leased owner operators (50% said they would make more money this year). Another 46% of leased drivers said they were hauling loads at better rates this year. 

According to the National Transportation Institute, fleets last year gave the largest pay increases to drivers with the most experience, a change from years prior where financial incentives mostly went toward attracting new drivers. 

Pay again this year was cited by survey respondents as the top reason fleets have a hard time finding (69%) and keeping (69%) drivers and the majority (35%) said they would leave their carrier if another carrier offered them more money. Coming in next, at 23%, was something that from a management standpoint is free: respect (show appreciation for the work I do and have a team atmosphere). 

The ability to choose their own routes and hauls would lead to a job change for 22% of survey respondents, as drivers see the ability to self-dispatch as a means of controlling their own financial fate. 

"Dispatchers have the power to make or break a driver. They can starve a driver or, if they like the driver, they can get good miles," said company driver Hal Porch. "If the dispatcher/driver manager doesn’t care about their job, then they won’t care about a driver."

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected].