Study suggests owner-operators more satisfied with job than company drivers

December 8, 2021

Tyson Fisher


New research from the American Transportation Research Institute suggests owner-operators are happier with their job than company drivers, but that could change if certain state laws eliminate the owner-operator model in trucking.

ATRI’s latest report compares owner-operators’ and company drivers’ level of satisfaction with their jobs. For the most part, owner-operators appear to be happier with their job, including pay.

Owner-operators leased to a carrier indicated they take advantage of the carrier’s resources. A vast majority of them use programs to acquire loads and get discounts on fuel. More than two-thirds use carrier resources for fuel taxes and insurance.

However, that can all go away if states strip the trucking industry of the independent contractor model. California’s Assembly Bill 5 establishes a strict test to determine whether a driver is an employee or independent contractor. Awaiting its fate in the U.S. Supreme Court, the law could eliminate the owner-operator business model for California trucking companies.

If that were to happen, all of the benefits and level of satisfaction that come with being an owner-operator are out the window. Nearly three-quarters of owner-operators say they would be less satisfied if forced to be a company driver, according to ATRI. More than two-thirds predict they will earn less money as a company driver.

Owner-operators earning more and enjoying it

According to the report, owner-operators are earning more money. Nearly 70% of company drivers indicated annual wages between $50,000 and $100,000. Although that pay is not bad, it may not be as good as an owner-operator’s. More than half of owner-operators reported an annual net income of $75,000 or more. That includes owner-operators leased to a carrier and those with their own authority.

Owner-operators and company drivers have different reasons motivating them to choose their respective driver model. For owner-operators, those factors include independence/setting own hours, schedule flexibility, and choice of routes/length of haul. More than 80% report satisfaction with those aspects of their jobs in addition to the pace of work.

Conversely, company drivers put more value on job security, income and benefits. About three-quarters are satisfied with job security. However, less than 70% are satisfied with their income, and less than 60% appear to be happy with the benefits.

The story is similar when it comes to pay. Independent contractors’ pay typically comes in the form of freight bill percentage or by load. Again, more than 80% of owner-operators report satisfaction with their income level.

Company drivers are usually paid by the hour or mile. Those paid by the hour are happier with their income but not as happy as owner-operators.

Nearly three-quarters of those paid by the hour are satisfied with their income. Only about two-thirds of company drivers paid by the mile reported any level of satisfaction with their income.

There is little desire among company drivers to become owner-operators. Only 18% indicated they would like to make the switch. Of those drivers, 85% believe they can earn more as an owner-operator, with 71% believing they will be happier with their job.

Among company drivers who used to be an independent contractor, less than a third said they are earning less. Even fewer reported they are less satisfied since making the switch. However, it is possible that those drivers did not experience anticipated pay and satisfaction as an owner-operator.

Female drivers most satisfied with trucking job

Researchers at ATRI also discovered that female truckers appear to be more content with their job than their male counterparts.

Among the top three motivating factors among owner-operators, closer to 90% of female drivers are reporting levels of satisfaction. The same is true for company drivers. More female company drivers are indicating satisfaction with those aspects of their job than male company drivers. LL