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Why Do DOD Drivers Earn More than Other Drivers?

February 7th, 2024

Taylor Fourre

Taylor Fourre

Taylor began at ATS in 2020 as vans operation support. He is currently a vans driver manager for company drivers.

If you’ve been looking at truck driver incomes across different divisions and freight types, chances are you’ve probably come across Department of Defense (DOD) drivers.

They make significantly more money than a lot of other drivers in the industry. In fact, teams at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), are making upwards of $6,500 to $8,000 per week.

Yep, per week. 

Wondering what you have to do to make that kind of money? Wondering if there are specific factors that contribute to the higher earnings of DOD drivers compared to drivers in other sectors?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. 

ATS is among only a handful of carriers authorized to move transportation protective services (TPS) and arms, ammunition and explosives (AA&E) with the DOD, so we know exactly why DOD drivers make more money than other drivers. (We also pay drivers that much money.)

We’ll break it down for you so you can understand what the job takes and why it pays more. It might be a career path you decide to pursue! 

DOD Drivers Have Specialized Clearances 

To become a DOD driver who hauls TPS and AA&E, you have to earn a security clearance from the DOD. It’s no easy feat. In fact, it takes some drivers so long to fill out the application that they just quit altogether. 

The security clearance gives you access to freight and locations (like military bases) that few drivers have access to.

The SF-86 is the form you have to fill out to gain this security clearance, and it’s not a quick form where you fill out your name, address and work history. Nope. The DOD is looking for extensive information so they can do a comprehensive background check. 

That means you’ll have to detail every place you’ve ever lived or worked, where you’ve gone to school and who you’ve lived with for the last 10 years. They’ll ask you about who you’re related to, your financial standing, your mental health and if you have any ties to other countries. 

After you complete the form, your approval can take weeks or months to come through. 

Check out these reasons a driver may be denied security clearance

Remember, DOD drivers haul valuable, classified freight. Only a fraction of truck drivers can do the job. The DOD can’t let any random driver move this special freight. In the wrong hands, the freight could be very dangerous. 

When a clearance is granted, it’s the United States placing trust with you. That warrants extra pay. 

Stacks of hundred dollar bills.

Regular Background Checks

Once you get a security clearance, the DOD will continue to monitor your background via periodic credit checks, criminal background checks and so on. 

If you happen to break a law, develop close ties to other countries or do something otherwise frowned upon, you can lose your clearance.

DOD Drivers Take on a Risk

High risk, high reward. DOD drivers take a risk by sometimes hauling dangerous freight. 

DOD drivers aren’t hauling toilet paper; they’re hauling sensitive documents, weapons, equipment, uniforms and more. It can be intimidating to haul sensitive freight and some drivers would rather not do it (which is totally okay). 

With those risks come extra precautions (more in the next section.) Drivers who just want to go go go and not follow extra rules and regulations shouldn’t pursue this type of position. It’s a lot of rule-following and taking extra steps to ensure the freight is protected during all parts of the journey.

Drivers must be cognizant of what they’re hauling, but they can’t dwell on it. 

The Freight is Worth More

DOD freight just tends to pay more than general freight. There’s a demand to get the loads delivered quicker and the commodities are sensitive, fragile and important. Military equipment or weapons are pricier than a piece of farming equipment or lumber.

And even if they’re hauling something less expensive, the demand to get freight to a military base quickly comes with a higher payout than other types of freight. 

The Freight Has Higher Demands

Unlike solo drivers, team DOD drivers have to keep the freight moving constantly. Depending on what the DOD team is hauling, there may be limitations on how many times they can stop and for how long. 

They have to be in constant communication with their trucking company about their progress and any stops they might be making. Their location is being monitored constantly, so an unplanned stop can mean trouble. DOD drivers have to be great communicators.

The freight also can’t be left unattended. If one driver has to go into the truck stop to use the restroom, the second driver needs to be awake and out of the sleeper to keep an eye on the load.

If the freight is classified as hazmat freight, you’ll have to follow specific rules and regulations regarding routing. For example, you can’t stop in certain places or travel through tunnels. 

Related: The realities of hauling hazardous materials

DOD drivers have to follow two sets of rules: a set of rules from the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the DOD. 

These extra tasks warrant higher pay.

It Takes a Certain Type of Driver

It takes a special kind of driver to do what DOD drivers do. Sometimes DOD drivers have to sit around waiting for a load, but once one becomes available, they have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. You must be patient and flexible.

Not only that, but a lot of government facilities only work a four-day work week and shut down for a lot of government holidays. DOD drivers have to be willing to work within unique timeframes.

While there’s a demand for DOD freight, drivers aren’t always immediately going from one load to the next. However, if something is happening in the world, like war, DOD drivers may be extra busy. 

All of this contributes to why DOD drivers are paid more than other drivers. 

Driver in ball cap stepping out of white semi-truck.

Succeeding as a DOD Driver

The higher earnings of DOD drivers compared to other drivers in the industry stem from several factors that make their role unique and demanding. 

DOD drivers undergo rigorous processes to obtain specialized security clearances, granting them access to classified freight and locations inaccessible to many others. These clearances entail extensive background checks and continuous monitoring, reflecting the level of trust placed upon them by the government and justifying the additional compensation they receive.

Moreover, DOD drivers face risks associated with transporting sensitive and sometimes hazardous materials, necessitating strict adherence to safety protocols and regulations. 

The nature of the freight itself commands higher payouts due to its value, urgency, and specialized handling requirements. Additionally, the demands of the job, including constant communication, adherence to strict timelines, and flexibility in scheduling, require a certain type of driver willing to navigate unique challenges and constraints.

Ultimately, the combination of specialized skills, security clearances, risk management and unique demands associated with DOD freight transportation justifies the higher compensation received by DOD drivers compared to their counterparts in the industry.

Here are some tips that’ll help you succeed in hauling this type of freight. 

You can also check out the DOD jobs ATS has in your area.