Trucking's youth movement lagging, but no retirement in sight for most drivers

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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.

Transportation's youth movement has been slow to get off the ground, as evidenced by responses to CCJ's What Drivers Want survey, conducted in partnership with Lytx. Exactly zero percent of queried company drivers and leased owner operators were 34 years of age or younger. 

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of all respondents were aged 55 or older, an age bracket that was consistent among company drivers (73%) and leased operators (75%). The balance fell in an age range of 35 to 54 years old. The average age of all respondents was 59.5 years – 59.2 years for company drivers and 60.2 years for leased owner-operators – more than a decade older the industry average age of 47 years, according to American Trucking Associations. 

Regardless of what figure you use – 60 years or 47 years – truck drivers are among the oldest group of professionals in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of the U.S. male labor force was 42 years old in 2022. Women skewed slightly younger at 41.6 years. According to data compiled by the University of Nebraska Omaha, nearly a quarter (23.87%) of all transportation and warehousing employees are aged 55 and over. 

Texas-based, 70 year old company driver Kelly Mack McCoy noted he was always drawn to the open road and chose a career in trucking more than 20 years ago. A lack of young drivers in transportation is also reflected in how long survey respondents have made a career out of driving as 71%, like McCoy, have been in the business for more than 20 years.

Leased drivers (76%) hold a slight edge over company drivers (69%) at the top end of the longevity mark, but company drivers are leading the way at the opposite end – 14% of company drivers have been in the business 10 or fewer years, compared to 7% of leased drivers. 

"I always wanted to be either a doctor or trucker. I know, big differences right? But those were always my two heroes," said 64 year old company driver Tim Hay, who's been behind the wheel for 20-plus years. "Being a doctor required a lot more schooling, meaning a lot more money that I didn't have, so I chose the trucking life."

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Hay noted both his father and older brother were truckers – not an uncommon pathway in the industry, as 21% of our survey respondents said they got intro trucking because their family was in the business. 

"I used to spend my summers on the road with my brother. He's the one that taught me to drive before I ever even had a license to drive a car," he recalled. "At 15 years old, I was peddling an 18 wheeler down the interstate and just having a ball."

Despite an average age less than a decade away from retirement age, saving for retirement isn't the top concern among the driver pool. That lies with simply paying the monthly bills (29%). The No. 2 concern was respondents' physical health (19%), then saving for retirement (15%). Retirement savings was a higher priority for the leased owner-operator group, as it landed in the No. 2 spot, ahead of physical health. 

"As you get older," noted Hay, who ranked safety on and off the job as his top concern, "the realization starts to set in that you can't take each day for granted. Today could very well be your last day. There's no guarantees in life."

Only 27% of drivers (36% of leased owner operators) said they're not saving for retirement, but the primary reason retirement funding wasn't a top priority for a group that is, on average, seven years from qualifying for it, is that the majority of survey respondents don't seem to know when they'll step out of the tractor for the final time. A whopping 58% say they either haven't decided when they will retire, or plan to drive as long as their health allows.

"I will slow down but never really quit," said leased owner operator Bob Whennen.

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]