There are a lot of perks to being a trucker. It’s an exciting job with steady demand, and it takes you on adventures every day.
But one of the main incentives is to earn a high paycheck.
A what has changed about the world during 2021, but one thing that hasn’t is the high demand for truck drivers.
Trucking companies nationwide are willing to pay competitive salaries and bonuses to qualified drivers.
In our updated guide, you can discover the average salary for truck drivers in 2021.
You will also learn about the factors that impact truck drivers’ paychecks. We will tell you how much you can earn if you start driving now, and also what you can expect to be paid depending on your industry, state, and specialized trucking job.
Let’s get started with our 2021 industry update…
What is the Average Salary for Truck Drivers in 2021?
GlassDoor.com offers a higher estimate of $58,541 as the nationwide average salary for truckers.
At the low end, the site lists salaries of around $35,000 per year, and at the high end, salaries close to $81,000 per year.
So, that gives you a pretty good idea what you can expect in general. Now let’s get into the specifics.
At TDS, we use a combination of the BLS.gov statistics, 3rd-party pay aggregators like Indeed and GlassDoor and our own driver surveys.
Pay Per Hour vs. Pay Per Mile
While some trucking jobs pay per hour, most pay per mile.
If you work for a company like FedEx or UPS with local routes, you will probably be paid hourly. The same is also likely if you work for a local distribution company. But each of those companies also has dedicated OTR freight drivers too.
If, on the other hand, you drive freight, it is more likely that you will be paid per mile.
Pay per mile jobs tend to pay better than those that pay per hour. Plus, the more efficiently you drive, the more money you can potentially make. So you are rewarded for being good at what you do.
As an example, say you manage to drive 700 miles in a single day. This would not be unusual. Now imagine you are paid 30 cents per mile. That would add up to $210 for the day.
What Can You Earn on Top of Your Base Salary?
As a truck driver, your pay is not necessarily going to be limited to your salary. You may also receive bonuses and benefits.
Driving efficiently and conserving fuel
Meeting performance thresholds
Passing your DOT inspection
Referring new drivers
A 401k plan
Paid sick leave and vacation
Other types of insurance
Here is What Impacts What Truck Drivers Earn
Obviously, there is a pretty wide range between the lowest and highest salaries in the trucking field. You might be wondering what factors cause some truck drivers to earn more than others.
These factors can influence how much you earn as a trucker:
Whether or not you have a Commercial Driver’s License, or CDL. Indeed.com reports, “The average CDL driver makes $59,925 per year in the United States.” That is significantly higher than the overall average that truckers make according to the BLS.gov statistics.
Advanced certifications may also boost pay. Indeed.com says you can earn over $100 per year with the right certifications.
How far you are willing to drive. Long distance hauls usually pay more than those that span a shorter distance.
Region. Some locations are more lucrative to work in than others.
Work in some industries is more profitable than it is in others.
Company size. Small companies tend to pay less than large ones. A typical range for small companies is $0.35 – $0.50 per mile. With a large company, the range is around $0.23 – $0.60 per mile. The drawback with a large company is that it may be more impersonal and/or have more internal problems. But with a small company, you can pay a lot in taxes if you end up being a contractor and not an employee.
Experience. The more experience you have in general, the more money you can potentially make as a truck driver. Also, the longer you work for a specific company, the more money you might potentially be paid.
Safety and efficiency. As mentioned before, if you are a safe and efficient driver, you might be rewarded with bonus pay by your trucking company.
Specific job. Some trucking jobs pay better than others, especially the more specialized roles. We will talk more about that later on in this guide.
Average Starting Pay for Truck Drivers
How much can you make starting out as a truck driver?
According to the BLS, “The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $66,840.”
So, we can reasonably assume that the lowest 10% mentioned here are probably entry-level truck drivers. That means that starting out, it is possible that your salary could be around $29,000 a year up to the mid $30k range.
But is that necessarily the case? No.
Remember, experience is just one of the factors that determines truck driver salaries. The company you choose to work at, whether you are licensed and other factors that we discussed could impact your starting wage.
For example, if I conduct a cursory search right now on Indeed.com, I see some entry level positions with higher starting salaries.
One post I am viewing guarantees weekly pay of $1,200. That is more than $62,000 per year. That is a pretty great starting rate!
Considering that is close to what the highest 10% earn according to the BLS, however, I would say that such an offer is rare.
When we look at more entry level truck driver postings, I see that the general range is typically between $30,000 and $55,000. That is still a really wide range!
Truck Driver Pay by Industry
Previously, I mentioned that some industries pay better than others. The BLS offers detailed breakdowns for different industries so that you can compare what you might potentially earn as a trucker in each.
Here are the top paying industries for truckers according to the BLS:
Other states that are highly lucrative for truckers include Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
You will also find reasonably high wages in Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska, Vermont and Rhode Island.
In what states are truckers paid the lowest annual mean wages? States to avoid include New Mexico, Idaho, South Dakota, Michigan, Alabama, South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Maine.
As you might notice, the salaries are distributed pretty unevenly across the country, and even across specific regions.
For example, one of the highest earning states for truckers is North Dakota, where the mean annual wage is around $53,990, and the average hourly wage is around $25.96.
Nevertheless, South Dakota is one of the lowest earning states for truckers. In south Dakota comma the mean annual wage is just $43,580. The mean hourly wage is only $20.95. That is a pretty huge difference between 2 states that border each other.
You can also view the top paying metropolitan areas for truckers.
Previously, we mentioned that there are certain trucking jobs that pay more than others. These are specialized roles that allow you to earn more money than you would with other trucking jobs.
Solo OTR Driver: OTR is short for “over the road.” This is the type of work that takes you on long hauls across regions, rather than driving smaller local circuits. If you do this job by yourself, you may be able to start out with a salary as high as $40,000 a year.
Team OTR Driver; How can you more than double your salary as an OTR driver? By driving with a partner. Imagine being able to cover around twice as much distance as you could by yourself. That is what team driving makes possible since you can switch back and forth with driving and sleeping. But here’s the thing. You both get paid for all the miles that you drove together, not just those you drove yourself. Team OTR driver salaries can range between $100,000 and $150,000 annually. That’s an amazing salary, especially considering you have a partner to help you out.
Trainer: If you become a safe and efficient trucker, and you feel confident to pass on your skills to others, you can become a truck driving trainer. It is possible to earn as much as $80,000 a year doing this job.
Dedicated Driver: If you transport merchandise for one particular company (it might be a Department store, for example), you can earn a salary of around $65,000. This is a good job if you don’t want a lot of variation, and prefer a routine route.
Owner-Operator: Good at organizing and leadership? You could consider going into business as an owner-operator. While you can have an entire fleet of vehicles under you, you could also just run a small trucking business, or even just be the only trucker under your own employ.
High Paying Specialized Driving Jobs
Along with the high-earning jobs listed above, there are a number of different jobs for specialized drivers. For example:
Line-haul driver. If you work as a line-haul driver, you will be moving less-than-truckload (LTL) freight. The job requires driving long distances. Earn up to $80,000 a year as a line haul trucker.
Intermodal driver. With experience and luck, you might score a job as an intermodal driver. This job is a lot like being a line-haul trucker. But the difference is that the hauls are across shorter local distances. That means you can sleep at home instead of on the road, and you get weekends to yourself. This is more of a regional versus national position.
Ice road trucking: Even doing this job for two months, you can earn up to $250,000 per year. The catch is that you will be driving not on roads, but on frozen waterways to make deliveries to remote destinations. You’ll have to drive at just 15 miles per hour. This gig is not for the faint of heart, and many people never do it twice after experiencing their first route. But if you have ice in your veins and you are ready to risk your life, you can look forward to lots of time off and plenty of cash to spend.
Hazmat driver: You can train to earn an endorsement as a hazmat driver. This job is exactly what it sounds like. You transport hazardous materials such as fuel. Since not all drivers have this specialty and also because you are transporting hazardous materials, you can earn some extra pay doing this job. How much more? That depends on the company, the material, and other details. In some cases, the difference might be minor, just several cents more than you would otherwise earn to haul freight for that company. But other companies may pay dollars more for every mile that you transport hazardous material. Even just a few extra cents for every mile can add up. A few dollars extra per mile can make a hefty paycheck difference.
Oversized load driver: You probably have noticed trucks on the road with banners warning, “OVERSIZED LOAD.” Driving these large loads adds challenge to the job since extra care must be taken when passing, turning, backing up, and so forth. But if you are up for it and you work long weeks, you might pull in as much as $140,000 a year.
Tank driver: You probably have noticed trunks hauling liquids in tanks before. Earning this specialized endorsement allows you to haul liquids (often hazardous materials) and earn more money.
Find a Job as a Trucker Now
Now you have a better idea of what factors can influence your salary and pay.
You have learned what geographic areas are best to work in if you want to maximize your earnings, what specialized jobs to consider, and what the highest-paying industries are.
You also know how much more you can earn in your first and subsequent years once you have your CDL.
If you do not have your CDL yet, we can help you find your local school.
You could be just weeks away from embarking on a lucrative, high-demand career as a truck driver.