If you’re thinking about a career as a truck driver, you might be wondering how much money you can expect to earn. Truck drivers play a critical role in our economy, transporting goods all over the country. And while the job can be challenging, it can also be very rewarding.
In the world of truck driving, there could be many different answers to that question. A variety of factors weigh in, including a driver’s productivity and their relationship with their employer. Like any other way to make a living, there are many avenues to take in your pursuit of truck driving—each comes with its own set of important factors and potential deal breakers, including potential pay.
In this article, we break down a truck driver’s average annual income and some of the highest paying positions in the trucking industry.
Average Truck Driver Salary
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a truck driver in May 2021 was $48,310 per year, or $23.23 per hour. The profession is expected to experience sustained growth through 2031—a total growth of 4% in that timeframe, which puts it in line with the average growth of other professions.
With an estimated 259,000 openings in the industry each year projected until 2031, there will be room for new drivers to find their place in the profession and earn a salary at or above the median.
How Do Truck Drivers Get Paid
While other lines of work measure the worth of your labor with salaries or hourly wages, truck drivers are often paid on a cents per mile system.
Typical pay lies somewhere between 28 and 40 cents on the mile, with drivers completing an average of 2,500 miles per week. When the math is followed to its conclusion, an average pay rate with the cents per mile system looks like approximately $880 per week, or $45,760 per year.
Drivers who earn their keep driving on cents per mile are also limited by how many hours truck drivers are allowed to drive before resting. However, maximizing time to clock in as many miles as possible isn’t the only way to earn one of the industry’s higher salaries.
If you’re a truck driver looking for a role that feels comfortable while utilizing your skills to earn a living, you have a number of options throughout the industry—including different methods of compensation for your labor.
Highest Paying Truck Driver Jobs
Coworkers can certainly make a job easier, and having someone else along for the ride to drive while you rest can cut delivery time in half. Catering to clients requiring that sort of delivery also means working with entities willing to pay more to receive their shipments faster. Working as part of a team can be as much as double the expected average salary.
When a job comes with extraordinary circumstances, it requires an extraordinary driver to see it through safely—and increased rates, too.
Moving items of high value, such as antiques, high-end automobiles, or collectibles requires focus, even when parking a vehicle or taking a break. These specialty haulers must protect their cargo against theft, the negligence of other drivers and any damage that may occur during transit. This means they must be highly skilled—and command higher pay.
Sometimes, danger may be around the corner for the driver, not just their cargo. Driving in conditions such as mines or quarries requires special training and special compensation, while taking on roads made of ice in the higher reaches of Canada can provide a full year’s salary in a few short months.
Owner and Operator
You may see trucking companies advertising the option to be your own boss, and being the boss does come with its own perks. An owner/operator who drives for themselves can earn $247,850 according to Indeed. Before going that route, though, research the current costs of owning and maintaining the equipment necessary to complete jobs. After weighing that cost against the perks of self-autonomy and your personal ceiling for growth, you can make an informed decision on your path forward.
How to Become a Truck Driver
Before taking on the jobs listed above, you’re going to need to gain the right credentials to drive commercial vehicles.
CDL Training and Exam
To begin professional training in the field, you’ll need to knock out two prerequisites—passing a license test in your state to drive regular vehicles and either completing high school or earning a GED. After you’ve completed those first steps, you may apply to commercial driver license (CDL) training programs. These can be found at institutions like technical institutes, community colleges, and private driving schools. Many trucking companies will provide free CDL training for new potential company drivers.
Completing a training program should qualify you for the CDL exam. However, some states may not grant accreditation to all programs, so check to see if the work you do will count before beginning your CDL journey. There are different classifications of CDL—A, B, and C—with A the least restrictive in terms of what its holder can operate.
In addition to a CDL, drivers can earn certifications and endorsements that allow for transportation of certain sorts of special cargo. This cargo can be anything from liquids in a tanker to children in a school bus. Always consult your state’s requirements before pursuing an endorsement, but if you’d like to pursue the subject further right now, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hosts a good reference for different endorsement codes.
Understand the Trucking Job Market
Begin familiarizing yourself with the job market before earning your CDL. That way, you’re primed to take advantage of openings when you’re fully accredited and ready to climb into the driver’s seat. TheJobNetwork hosts a dedicated job board for transportation positions, with listings that span a number of specialties, certifications, endorsements, and locations around the world. Vet these listings, apply your important factors and potential deal breakers, and find your new fit today!