Owner-Operators of Today and Yesteryear

July 16, 2013

By Kate Harlow

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A lot can change in 10 years, and for the average owner-operator, a lot has changed.

Todd Amen, CEO of ATBS, recently presented at TCA's Refrigerated Division Annual Meeting on how the owner-operator and his world has transformed in a decade's time.

Amen began by summing up the life of an average owner-operator:

  • Average driver age 46, while the average age of a U.S. Citizen is 37;
  • Average life expectancy of a driver is 61 years old, while the average life expectancy of a U.S. citizen is 79;
  • The average TL company driver makes $46,000, and the average TL Reefer Company driver makes $43,000 annually;
  • The average owner-operator makes $52,000, and the average Reefer owner-operator makes $46,500 annually.

Amen compared the average pay for drivers to the annual pay of a U.S. male, high school graduate in 2011, which averaged $39,352.

"What is so unappealing about our industry that we aren't able to attract these young people into a higher-paying profession?" Amen posed to the audience. With no clear-cut answer, Amen moved on to his side-by-side comparison of today's owner-operator with the owner-operator of 10 years ago.

The successful owner-operator 10 years ago:

  • Average Miles driven each year = 139,000
  • Gross revenue = $127,000
  • Average pay per mile- 85 cents
  • Net income = $50,000
  • Number of log books = 3
  • Fuel = 5 mpg – Average cost $1.42 per gallon
  • Bought his fuel at his favorite truck stop
  • Saw his family once every three to five weeks
  • Didn't know his cost per mile, but ran miles when he didn't have enough money
  • Smoked two packs of cigarettes a day

The successful owner-operator today:

  • Average miles driver each year = 110,000
  • Gross revenue = $162,000
  • Average net pay per mile = 94 cents
  • Net incomce = $60,000
  • Number of log books = EOBR
  • Fuel = 8 mpg – Average cost $3.92 per gallon
  • Plans his trip and fuel purchases based on cheapest available fuel
  • Sees his family twice a week
  • Knows and manages his costs per mile
  • Learns via multiple sources
  • Smokes electronic cigs

Among many of the changes that the owner-operator has experienced is an increased focus on fuel economy.

"They didn't worry about fuel economy because it was $1.42 a gallon. Now they are focused on getting the most out of their fuel," Amen said. "He would buy fuel at his favorite truckstop—the one with the strongest coffee, or the cutest waitress," Amen said with a laugh, "Today it's different."

Other changes that are being seen in owner-operators is an increased emphasis on health, as well as evolving technology.

Amen said that they are seeing the trend of drivers being increasingly more conscious of trying to live a more healthy lifestyle.

There are fitness systems in the trucks, and drivers are eating healthier and cooking in their trucks. Drivers are also paying attention to their health numbers such as cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure, Amen said.

Technology has taken an important role in helping owner-operators do their jobs as well, according to Amen.

In a recent market research study of 1,023 owner-operators, Amen said that on average 66% of drivers spend a minimum of one hour per day on the internet, 90% regularly check email, and 90% believe apps help them be more successful owner-operators.


  1. 1. Jay Charles [ July 17, 2013 @ 09:20AM ]

    One of the best articles I've seen on today's Owner-Operator. They have changed in the last 10 years and I think carriers can use this information to adjust their perception and do things that help owner-operators thrive. Can Todd hold a webinar and train carriers on this?

  2. 2. Rich Kruml [ July 17, 2013 @ 12:36PM ]

    Don't you mean OWNED operator?
    If you do not own the base plate you are at the mercy of the man that does regardless of what you call yourself.
    $50,000 a year, what a joke for all the responsibility you have for the truck.
    Better to drive someone elses truck where you do not have to give a damn about costs of breakdowns, tires etc.

  3. 3. C J Tracchia [ July 24, 2013 @ 05:26PM ]

    Yes! many thing have change. with the exception of may of us are stock driving the same 12 year old truck and fighting with all the banks so we can buy new.. impossible today! in ten more years the O/O will disappear like the cowboy did thanks to corporate America.

  4. 4. rick [ November 11, 2014 @ 10:54PM ]

    I ran 71000 last year with an. EOBR and made in excess of 185,000 . My taxable income was $77,000 and my taxes were $23,000. Self employment tax is 15% plus fed income tax. Our problem is the tax and fuel cost. I'd rather give my money to Exxon than the feds

  5. 5. rick [ November 11, 2014 @ 10:56PM ]

    Keep your chin up my friends. Without us the country is in neutral. Lol


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