Pay Structures, Compensation and Benefits for Professional Truck Drivers

How much money can I make as a professional truck driver?

The median earnings for a U.S. truck driver in 2019 were $45,260, or $21.76 per hour assuming a 40-hour work week. Keep in mind, the noted earnings listed are “median,” meaning 50% of drivers earn more, sometimes much more, and 50% of drivers earn less.

Annual earnings are based on many factors including they type of driving performed and the cargo being hauled. Depending on your compensation arrangement, you may also earn overtime pay and bonuses.

Keep in mind that driving a truck is not just a job, it is a lifestyle. Top earning drivers spend much of the year on the road, and this can be hard on families and relationships. Consider if the truck driver’s lifestyle is one that fits what you want in terms of a “work-life balance.”

Click Here to see the US Department of Transportation’s Occupational Outlook Handbook updated median pay for Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers.

Should I care about pay and compensation structures?

Absolutely!

Carriers often advertise for drivers on the back of a truck, on a billboard, or in a newspaper or magazine. Normally, compensation is an “attention getter” for these ads.

Usually, driver recruitment ads emphasize mileage-based pay rates, and they’ll catch your attention. That’s the whole point — the ad is supposed to get you to call the phone number and speak with a recruiter. But as in all advertising, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

You may or may not find fine print that, if you read it, will make you realize how difficult it will be to meet conditions necessary to earn the advertised rate. Or you may find out when talking to the recruiter.

For instance, the advertised per mile rate may be based on conditions a driver will find it very difficult to qualify, and/or it may be for team drivers, meaning each member of a 2-driver team would earn only half that advertised, again under the best possible circumstances.

You should also understand that depending on your arrangement, you may drive nights, weekends, and holidays and be away from home for weeks before returning for time off the road. Before considering any pay structure, you should first become familiar with the FMCSA’s Hours of Service regulations.

What pay structures are used to pay professional truck drivers?

Different carriers or companies operating trucks use different methods of calculating wages. The basis by which you will be paid is known as a “Pay Structure.” Various structures exist, including payment based on hours worked, miles driven, specific routes driven, or a combination of the three. Typically, full-time truck drivers do not earn a straight annual salary. This is especially the case with OTR drivers.

Per Hour: Hourly compensation is uncommon in the trucking industry. For those company that do pay hourly wages, as of 2019, the average wage is $24.00 per hour. Most often hourly wages apply to local drivers. An advantage of hourly pay is that, provided you work your assigned weekly hours, you can count on a steady income that you can plan for. Hourly drivers are also eligible for overtime, something not provided to most types of drivers. Under this sort of arrangement, you are likely to be home most nights. On the negative side of hourly pay structures, you won’t be paid for “sleeper time,” “layover time,” or “inconvenience time” as are OTR drivers.

Per Mile: Most truck drivers are paid on the basis of miles driven. The mileage and total payment may vary week-to-week, but drivers paid by the mile will find when comparing their wages to other pay structures, they typically earn more per hour or if their pay is salary based.

A driver paid per mile normally drives up to 3,000 miles a week, the estimated maximum based on the “Hours of Service” regulations. When converting to an hourly wage, mileage-based pay may equal up to $50.00 per hour. According the to the U.S. Department of Labor, most mileage-based drivers earn 28-40 cents per mile driven. Some companies will pay slightly more for drivers with extensive experience or who specialize in hauling a dangerous, high-value, or otherwise out-of-the-ordinary types of freight. In terms of disadvantages, any inconvenience (weather, breakdown, urban driving) that decreases the number of miles driven during a given period will have a negative impact on your paycheck.

Route-based: Like hourly pay structures, few companies pay on a route-basis. In most cases, a truck driver with a normal delivery route is more likely to be paid an hourly wage or salary than a lump sum dependent on a delivery route.

Routes are usually fairly short, meaning overnight driving is not always required. On the other hand, if paid a specific amount to complete a given route, drivers who experience delays during the day may find themselves working long hours (but in no case more than the FMCSA regulations allow).

Route-based drivers should study the FMCSA regulations that provide exceptions to the Hours of Service regulations for drivers operating with a limited radius of their terminal. FMCSA has considered excluding drivers from regulations if they do not drive more than a certain number of miles from a base location (i.e. within a 150-mile radius).

Do the different types of routes, drivers, and hauling equipment impact compensation?

Yes.

Compensation varies based on many factors. These might include experience, driver type, equipment type, cargo, and size of carrier or company.

No industry-wide standard exists when it comes to compensation structures or rates of pay. Owner-operator pay rates will likely be far more than any other driver type; however, by the times expenses are subtracted from gross receipts and taxes are paid, the final annual profit may be as little as half of receipts.

What can an entry-level truck driver expect to earn?

Entry-level positions in the trucking industry pay less than those held by experienced workers. Whether paid by the mile, hour, or route, an entry level driver will earn substantially less than an experienced driver doing the same work.

On average, an entry-level driver can expect to earn $25,000 – $35,000 annually. As an owner-operator, an entry level driver and an experienced driver may see a similar profits per year; however, experience allows a driver to become familiar with money-saving driving methods such as the quality of roads being driven, how to avoid slowdowns, and how to maximize efficiency.

What are the highest paying professional truck driver jobs?

In terms of cash compensation, OTR drivers are likely the highest paid type of drivers. If drivers are salaries, large companies that own their own fleets of trucks and hire drivers might pay more than $70,000 annually, and that is before bonuses.

Specialty drivers are likely to earn more than average based on the limited supply of drivers and the demand for specialty services. Endorsements can also result in higher annual earnings.

In order to increase earnings, drivers should focus on safe, timely deliveries. In most cases, consistent safety and timeliness is rewarded.

For more information about the best paying jobs for truckers, watch this video.

What is the trucking industry’s reputation when it comes to paying female drivers on an equal basis to male drivers performing the same work?

Unfortunately, wages do differ between males and females.

As of 2019, the typical male driver earned $40,000 to $45,000 dollars a year, while females earned $25,000-$30,000. The percentage of female drivers compared to male drivers in the industry is still very low, and efforts are being made by both private carriers and the federal government to encourage females to pursue truck driving jobs. As the percentage of female drivers increase, it can be expected that wages will begin to equalize. How the situation plays out, however, remains to be seen.

What is the job outlook for professional truck drivers?

As of 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor estimated the number of truck drivers needed would increase 5% by 2028. That’s almost 100,000 new jobs.

Keep in mind that these are “forecasted” numbers and assume few changes in supply-demand or major developments making truck drivers and OTR transportation necessary. These factors can change daily. Keep an eye on quarterly statistics is the best method of tracking job opportunities.

Click Here to see the US Department of Transportation’s Occupational Outlook Handbook for Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers.

What types of benefits do professional truck drivers receive?

Like pay, benefits vary based on the employment arrangement of drivers.

Full-time OTR drivers will earn the typical benefits found in most occupations — health care, life insurance, paid time off, and perhaps liability insurance among others. Carriers and companies employing drivers also pay half of the “payroll tax” collected by the federal government. As of 2020, the total payroll tax is 15.3% of gross earnings.

Contracted or owner-operators must pay the full 15.3% payroll tax. So, if an owner-operators income after deducting expenses is $100,000, the government is owed $15,300. Owner-operators are also responsible for obtaining their own health insurance and paying all expenses involved in operating as a “self-employed” individual. On the other hand, time off is not a concern of owner-operators as they can accept or refuse any contract offer. But “time off” for an owner-operator is not “paid”