The Truth of Truck Driver Salary: How Much Can You Really Earn?

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The changing face of the trucking industry is paving the way for a new wave of high-paying jobs set to challenge the notion that truck driving is a less-than-lucrative career path. Over the years, the industry has had its fair share of highs and lows with many people being promised the dream of incredible compensation and a fun life on the road only to find out the hard way that the reality is not at all what they expected.

For a lucky few, truck driving can be the fruitful career they always envisaged, but it is certainly not the case for everyone. Perhaps born from the misconception that truck driving in all forms, for all companies pays really well, many bright-eyed truckies soon succumb to the dreary reality that the negatives outweigh the positives.
But things appear to be changing. For the past five years, salaries have actually been trending upwards. With the growing demand for drivers – thanks to our modern lifestyles of online shopping and growing need for eCommerce shipping – combined with a low supply of drivers, companies have been forced to offer employees more money and more opportunities for owner-drivers to get into the industry have been born. In fact, the industry is fast being regenerated as one of the better career paths for those looking to work hard and get paid well.  

The Breakdown

As with all industries, pay wildly varies in the truck driving world. The type of work you do, where you do it and who you do it for are factors in determining your salary. When you first start out, you can expect to earn the least, and in cases where your company has put you through your CDL training, your hourly rate will be the lowest in the business.

Depending on the type of work you do, you’ll be paid by the mile, by the hour, or you’ll work for an annual salary. Over-the-road or OTR drivers (those who generally drive cross-country) generally get paid per mile, which depending upon who you speak to, could be a positive or a negative. On one hand, you know exactly how much you’ll be getting paid for each trip which might be a great rate if you have a clear run. On the other hand, you know you’ll only get paid that rate regardless of if that trip takes you one or seven days due to factors beyond your control. That said, OTR drivers still make on average 24% more than local day drivers.

As of January 2020, the average truck driver’s salary is $59,431 per annum but there is a multitude of ways to make sure you’re in the best position to earn much more than that.

Upskill To Earn More

Not all truck drivers are created equal and companies are willing to pay more for the best. It is for that reason that if you have additional qualifications, you may get paid more. According to Indeed, drivers with their TWIC card earn on average 10.73% more than the average and those with a doubles/triples endorsement can earn 7.59% more.

To this vein, it’s important to also note that there are also factors that could impede your chances of getting a higher-paying job. If you’ve had your license suspended or revoked or you have a criminal record, you might even find it hard to get a job in the first place!

Location, Location, Location

The location in which you drive is also a factor in how much you get paid. Drivers in Florida, for example, have an average salary of $82,307 compared with California which only pays an average of $64,262. It’s important to think about this before you start your journey into becoming a truck driver too as the licenses you’ll need vary from state to state. So before you go out and get your New York CDL License, for instance, check whether getting a Massachusetts CDL License may be more lucrative.

The Company You Keep

Sometimes earning more money simply comes down to the company you drive for. In fact, of the top five paying companies in the industry, only one pays their drivers less than $100,000 per year! Forward Air, Andersen Trucking Service and The Dart Network all pay their drivers in excess of $150,000 per year, almost three times the national average. It goes without saying then that you should do some research on the best companies to work for before you apply.

Playing The Long Game

As with most careers, the more experience you have, the more you’ll get paid. With each year of experience you gain, the average salary you’ll attract increases with the peak coming in at about 12 years. So, hang in there if you’re looking to make top dollar!

Owner Driver

One of the best ways to reach your maximum earning potential as a truck driver is to become an owner-driver. Owning and driving your own truck can see you earn, on average, 47% more than the national average truck driver’s salary. Although there are more costs and other implications to consider such as buying a night vision system for safety, many owner-drivers consider the path they have taken to be a very worthwhile venture.

All About The Money

All in all, the best job for you might not be the one that pays the highest. As a truck driver, even if you’re not getting paid in excess of the national average, there are so many other benefits to consider. Job security, insurance and a 401(k) are just some reasons truck drivers love what they do. What’s more, you can say goodbye to the hostile work environments which can come from working in an office. As a truck driver, it’s just you and the open road!