Truck Driver Salary: How Much Do Truck Drivers Make?
Trucking jobs often promise a stable, good income. Depending upon certifications and freight hauled, this vocation can often be lucrative. This page breaks down various truck driver salaries, how much a truck driver with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) can really make, and how truck drivers can increase their income.
What Is the Average Salary for a CDL Truck Driver?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average truck driver salary for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers in 2020 was $48,710 per year, or $23.42 per hour. This is slightly below the average annual salary for workers for all occupations in the United States in 2020, $56,310.
What Is the Highest-Paid Truck Driving Job?
Differences in truck driver salaries often depend on the type of freight hauled and the distance traveled. Truckers might be able to increase their salary potential by diversifying the types of loads they are willing and qualified to drive, driving longer routes or routes with less desirable working hours, considering jobs with more intensive loading or unloading requirements for the driver, or adding endorsements to their CDL.
Here are specific trucker jobs with the highest earning potential:
HAZMAT Truck Driver
2021 average annual earnings: $64,040
HAZMAT truck drivers transport materials deemed dangerous by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. These include flammable goods, explosives, toxic substances, radioactive items, and corrosive materials.
Drivers must add an H (HAZMAT) or X (Tanker/HAZMAT) endorsement to their CDL A to carry hazardous materials. Earning the endorsement requires passing an exam and undergoing an extensive background check due to the harmful nature of HAZMAT loads.
HAZMAT trucking jobs often pay more because of the associated risks and required skills. The average annual salary for HAZMAT truck driving was $64,040 in 2021. According to Indeed, drivers with an H endorsement typically earn 6.26% more than the average truck driver base salary, and drivers with an X endorsement earn 8.43% more.
Flatbed Truck Driver
2021 average annual earnings: $53,163
Flatbed drivers carry materials using an open trailer due to the large size of loads being transported. This trucking job requires a specific set of skills to safely haul large or unusually shaped items, which often translates into higher wages. Flatbed drivers need to be detail-oriented and physically able to load, secure, and unload large goods.
Drivers with flatbed experience may earn roughly 6% more than the average base salary. The 2021 average salary for this position is around $53,163, with 10% of drivers earning $75,000 or more.
Tanker Truck Driver
2021 average annual earnings: $54,563 (tanker) – $57,530 (HAZMAT tanker)
Tanker truck drivers transport liquids. Tanker truckers must earn either an N endorsement (for operating tankers) to haul liquid substances or an X endorsement (combination HAZMAT/tanker) to haul hazardous liquid chemicals such as gasoline. The added endorsement and challenges involved with carrying liquids means tanker truckers may earn more than truck drivers who don’t haul tankers.
According to Indeed, tanker drivers earn about 8% more than non-tanker drivers. The 2021 average yearly salary for tanker drivers is $54,563 and $57,530 for HAZMAT tanker drivers.
OTR (Over the Road) Truck Driver
2021 average annual earnings: $106,441
Over-the-road (OTR) truck drivers transport goods across long distances. They spend most of their time on the road and may make more money than regional or local drivers. OTR drivers earn approximately 24% more than the average base truck driver wage, with average reported earnings of $106,441 annually.
How Much Can a Truck Driver Make a Year?
Annual salaries for truck drivers vary depending upon the type of trucking job, company, and where you live and work. According to the BLS, for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers, the lowest 10% earned less than $30,660 in 2020, while the highest 10% earned over $69,480—with most falling somewhere in between.
Where you work can dictate how much money you make, so location is often a good indicator of potential wage earnings. Below are the top-paying states for truckers and their annual average wages for 2020:
Can Truck Drivers Make $100K?
Depending upon the type of trucking job, drivers may be able to earn more than $100,000 annually. Line-haul and OTR drivers report the highest salaries, with national estimates of OTR driving earnings at around $105,149 per year. Some owner operator truck drivers may average nearly $300,000 per year in gross earnings. However, keep in mind that owner operators are small business owners responsible for a variety of costs that can dramatically reduce that take-home pay.
Average Truck Driver Salary for Other Trucking Jobs
Truck driver salaries differ depending on the kind of trucking you do, freight hauled, route distance, and driver experience. Even if these trucking jobs aren’t known to be the most lucrative, many of them pay very well, especially with more experience and a lengthier safe driving record.
Local drivers transport goods in and around their immediate location, which often gives them a set schedule and the ability to be home every night. Compared to other trucking jobs, you may make more frequent stops and load and unload and transport hauls. Local drivers are generally paid by the hour as opposed to miles driven.
Less than truckload (LTL) drivers carry multiple types of freight in the same truck. Pay is often hourly or by drop-off and pickup, or a combination of both.
Dump truck drivers move gravel, construction materials, garbage, and dirt from one location to another. These jobs are often local and paid hourly.
Dry van drivers haul goods that don’t need temperature control. Pay for this position is often determined by distance traveled and can be hourly, by the mile, or a combination. Drivers may work in teams and split mileage between them.
These commercial drivers transport goods throughout the country, but usually within 1,000 miles from their home. This means regional truck drivers may have a more consistent schedule and are home regularly. Some regional trucking jobs pay by the mile, which may earn you less when driving shorter distances. Other regional trucking positions may pay by the mile and by the load.
Refrigerated, or reefer, truck drivers haul perishable goods that must be kept cool or frozen. Reefer trucks require more maintenance, and loads may be more time-sensitive, possibly increasing wages.
Roll off drivers transport waste from residential, commercial, and construction facilities to landfills. Drivers carry the materials and are also in charge of proper disposal, including documentation and following standard procedures. This job is physically demanding and requires extensive knowledge of safety and transportation laws. The specific skill set needed for this line of work may mean higher earnings than other modes of truck driving.
Oil field drivers transport oil to and from oil sites. Demand for this job is growing due to the increasing prevalence of fracking in the United States. Pay for oil field drivers depends on various factors, including location, company, role, and experience. Oil field drivers may operate different trucks, like flatbed or tanker, depending upon the work involved. Crude oil drivers’ salaries range from $40,000 to more than $100,000 per year on Glassdoor.
Salary data for truck drivers with one to two years of experience isn’t available on Indeed. But truckers with less than one year of experience have reportedly earned more than the national average—making over $65,000 yearly. Companies like Swift Transportation and J.B. Hunt often take on new drivers and typically pay rookies around $40,000 annually.
Tow truck drivers must possess a CDL A and can add other certifications to tow various types of goods and increase their job opportunities.
Auto haulers transport vehicles. Car haul drivers’ work is challenging due to the large size and heavy weight of vehicles. These truckers must possess a special skill set to maneuver multiple car loads, granting them higher wages than traditional trucking jobs.
Average Driver Salary by City
The average truck driver salary varies slightly based on location. Below is the 2020 BLS data for truck drivers in the top 10 most populated cities in the U.S., which shows that in some of the more populated regions of the country, you may readily earn over $50,000 per year.
|San Antonio, TX
|Los Angeles, CA
|San Diego, CA
|New York City, NY
|San Jose, CA
How to Increase Your Truck Driver Salary
Truck drivers can increase their salary in several ways—whether by changing the carrier they drive for, gaining more experience, or working for themselves. Here are seven ways you can increase your earning potential as a truck driver.
Fleet carriers frequently use bonuses to reduce driver turnover and attract fresh talent. Companies may offer sign-on bonuses when hiring new drivers and may pay current employees for referring recruits. Bonuses for the number of miles driven are also incentives at some carriers, along with road safety and fuel efficiency bonuses.
Adding endorsements to your CDL can transform your trucking career into a lucrative venture. Diversifying the kind of freight you haul may open you up to more job opportunities, thereby increasing your earning potential.
Switch Your Employer
Changing companies may also lead to a higher salary. Research different fleet carriers to determine which ones pay their drivers the most. A few of the top-paying companies include XPO Logistics, UPS, and Estes Express Lines.
Consider Team Driving
You may be able to earn more by pairing up with another driver. Team driving allows you to log more miles than solo driving, which in turn increases your pay.
Rack Up More Experience
The more experience a driver has, the higher their earning potential. According to Indeed, drivers with six to nine years of experience earned $78,071 per year, and drivers with more than 10 years of experience made $82,565 annually. Even just getting past your first 12 months with a strong safety record can really boost pay.
Truckers should consider not only the length of their driving career but also the skills acquired. Drivers with experience hauling different types of freight and driving various distances can widen the pool of opportunities available to them.
Consider Other Routes
Drivers traveling longer distances like OTR may earn more than local and regional truckers who drive fewer miles. If you’re okay with having less time at home, this might be a suitable strategy to increase your salary.
Become an Owner Operator
Becoming an owner operator driver may increase your income to six figures, but the onus is on you regarding how much you’ll make. Unlike company drivers, owner operators take care of all vehicle expenses, including leasing and purchasing their trucks, maintenance, and fuel. However, this work can be incredibly profitable if you learn how to maximize your revenue while minimizing your expenses.
Can You Get Paid in Trucking School?
Some trucking companies offer paid CDL training as a way to recruit new drivers. Fleet carriers pay for your CDL education in exchange for your commitment to work for them for a set time after you earn your license.
The most frequently offered training is for CDL A licenses and endorsements needed to operate vehicles associated with this license, like the H, N, T, and X endorsements. Trucking companies may also provide paid training for CDL B and C licenses to drive smaller commercial vehicles like buses. Carriers offering paid CDL training include ABF Freight, Knight Transportation, Southeastern Freight Lines, Swift Transportation, and XPO Logistics.