2021 Truck Driving Industry Statistics
If you've ever driven down a highway, you've seen commercial truck drivers performing their jobs.
But have you ever wondered who these drivers are, what their days look like, or how dangerous their jobs are to their health and lives? Or, as you've driven past a vehicle, have you thought about what laws govern them? Perhaps you've seen the news stories about the fears truckers have about automation and wondered about job outlook for truck drivers.
This article serves as a one-stop-shop to answer all these questions, using the most recent data available.
How Many People Are Employed in Truck Driving?
Truck driving is a massive industry in the U.S., with 3.6 million employed as professional drivers and 7.95 million working in the transportation field in some way. This accounts for 5.8% of the overall United States workforce.
Broken down further, there are 1.5 million delivery drivers and driver/sales workers and over 2 million heavy and tractor-trailer drivers in the country as of 2019.
Sources: American Trucking Associations, Business Insider, Bureau of Labor Statistics—Delivery Truck Drivers and Driver/Sales Workers, Bureau of Labor Statistics—Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers
What Is the Race or Ethnicity Breakdown Among Commercial Truck Drivers?
Truck drivers are diverse, reflecting the United States' overall racial demographics fairly well.
The racial breakdown of truck drivers in the United States is as follows:
How Many Truck Drivers are Immigrants?
While there aren't statistics about the overall number of immigrants working as commercial drivers, it's known there are many immigrants in the field. In fact, 46% of California's truck drivers are immigrants, while only 27% of the state's overall population are immigrants.
How Many Women Truck Drivers Are There?
The majority of truck drivers identify as male, and most seem to identify as heterosexual.
Women make up 6.6% of truck drivers, though individual companies focus on recruiting female drivers. Even in these brands, the number of women behind the wheel seems to max out at around 20%.
How Many LGBTQ+ Truck Drivers Are There?
There have been no official studies on the number of LGBTQ+ truck driver numbers. However, truck driver Anne Balay, Ph.D., took it upon herself to try to find out how many drivers identify as members of this community for her book Semi-Queer: Inside the World of Gay, Trans, and Black Truck Drivers. She spoke with hundreds of LGBTQ+ truckers, and she believes trans women may comprise as much as 3% of truck drivers overall. As of January 2021, the Facebook group LGBT Truckers has over 5,300 members.
How Old Are Truck Drivers?
Truck drivers in the U.S. are older than workers in general, with the median age of over-the-road (OTR) drivers being 46 (compared to 42 for all occupations). Private fleet drivers are a median of 57 years old, and drivers in training are at a median age of 35.
These ages are a bit concerning for those in the trucking industry, as it's believed the older ages of the drivers contribute to the country's current and looming trucker shortage. To drive a tractor-trailer across state lines, a person must be 21 years old—meaning adults between 18 and 20 may be gainfully employed in another field by the time they could enter trucking as a career.
Source: American Trucking Associations
How Far Do Truck Drivers Drive?
In 2018, United States truck drivers drove a combined 304.9 billion miles.
If a driver follows the 11-hour driving limit and takes their required 30-minute break, at an average of 60 mph, they could cover 630 miles in one day. Under a 14-hour limit with the same break time and speed, that's 810 miles per day. However, slowdowns or stops for traffic (which may vary by how many cities are on your route), getting fuel, or for bathroom or meal breaks mean that that practically speaking, averaging those daily miles would be challenging.
Team drivers can go even farther—nearly double the distance—as one can be off-duty in the cab while the other drives.
How Much Freight Do Truck Drivers Haul?
Trucks transported 11.84 billion tons of freight in 2019. Compared to other freight industries such as rail, trucking moved 72.5% of domestic U.S. freight, 67.7% of U.S. freight to Canada, and 83.1% of U.S. freight to Mexico.
Source: American Trucking Associations
How Dangerous is Truck Driving?
In 2019, truck driving was named the seventh most fatal job in the country, with over 1,000 fatal work injuries that year. This number comprises nearly 20% of all deaths resulting from workplace incidents. In 38% of cases, the driver was not wearing a seatbelt.
Commercial vehicle driving is hazardous not just to the drivers but also to their passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians. In 2018, 5,096 crashes involving these vehicles resulted in the death of the truck driver or another person.
2018 also saw 121,000 injury accidents involving buses or other large commercial vehicles.
Is Truck Driving Bad for Your Health?
Long haul truck drivers may be at high risk for myriad health issues. Below are the rates of some of these health issues among truck drivers. However, truck drivers do need to pass a DOT physical, and the following health issues may be correlated with, but not necessarily caused by, the commercial truck driving lifestyle:
Truck drivers are considered especially vulnerable to COVID-19 due to cross-country travel and interaction with people from all over. It's known that COVID-19 can exacerbate current health problems or create new ones, including heart diseases and metabolic issues. Some of the issues it can cause can medically bar drivers from working, possibly permanently. Truck drivers must follow all COVID protocols, like frequent handwashing, social distancing, and mask-wearing.
Source: American Journal of Industrial Medicine
Laws About Commercial Truck Driving
In addition to following most of the typical rules of the road, commercial vehicle drivers have laws regulating their time spent driving and the speed at which they can move.
How Much Time Can Commercial Vehicle Drivers Spend Driving?
Freight and passenger drivers have limits on how long they can be behind the wheel on a given day, along with specific definitions of on- and off-duty hours.
How Fast Can Truck Drivers Drive?
Large trucks are often expected to follow standard speed limits, though some states have maximum speeds they're allowed to drive. For instance, California's rural interstate speed limits can be as high as 70 mph, but trucks aren't allowed to go above 55 mph.
All states consider going 15 mph or more above the speed limit in a commercial vehicle to be a serious violation. More than one of these in a set period can result in a driver's CDL being suspended. Speeding in a personal vehicle can get "points" against your license, and if a driver's non-commercial license is revoked, their CDL will be too.
How Will Automation Affect the Trucking Industry?
There is a growing fear that automation, particularly driverless cars, will harm the truck driving industry. Harvard Business Review believes this fear is overblown, as truck drivers do far more than "just drive," and automation that can fully control large vehicles is far in the future.
While many industries are losing jobs to automation, the jobs that are being automated sooner are largely ones that involve fewer safety implications—for instance, risk of shoplifting resulting from automation as opposed to risk of major vehicle accidents. Companies that create self-driving cars don't anticipate truckers being made completely obsolete, with some saying they only intend for trucks to self-drive on long, open highways with humans taking over off the highway. Truck drivers will still be involved, potentially using remote control rather than being in the vehicles.
How Does the General Public Perceive the Trucking Industry?
While we've all grumbled about trucks on the road, in general, people feel positive about the trucking industry:
Source: Trucking Moves America Forward
Are Truck Drivers Satisfied in Their Jobs?
As with any field, those employed in trucking aren't always completely happy with their careers. Driver burnout isn't uncommon, frequently because of disappointment in their management, salaries, or workloads.
Despite the survey mentioned above reporting most of the public looks positively upon trucking, not all drivers feel this is true. "We are treated like the bad guys on the road by other drivers and the police," says Boris Strbac, Star Trucking manager, in an interview with The Washington Post.
Additionally, working as a commercial truck driver can negatively affect relationships. Transportation has the second-highest divorce rate of any industry, coming in at 40.5%. Long-time truck driver Michael Dow says, "I've been divorced two times because of truck driving," further saying he wouldn't recommend the job to people with families because of the time spent away from home.
The aforementioned health issues also play roles in driver dissatisfaction.
However, not all drivers are dissatisfied. Half of the drivers interviewed by The Washington Post said they would recommend the job to others, largely because of the low price of training compared to the relatively high pay once you get your first job.