How Much Do Truck Drivers Make? Navigating Truck Driver Pay
Trucking is seeing a huge boom, with thousands of new driver jobs opening month after month. New and expectant drivers who want to know what kind of truck driving salary they can expect probably run into a slew of different figures in their search. The truth is, average driver salaries vary based on factors like truck type, experience, level, location, and risk involvement. This article will answer questions like how much do truck drivers make and what's the average truck driver salary in the U.S.
How Much Do Truck Drivers Make on Average?
Let's get to it: how much does a truck driver make an hour?
At the time this is written (2023), truck drivers in the U.S. make an average of 20 - 60 cents per mile (CPM), depending on several factors.
Let's say you're a new, solo, dry van driver starting at $0.35 per mile. The average driver gets 2,000-3,000 miles per week, putting you at roughly $875/week. That's roughly $22 per hour, $3,500 per month, or $42,000 yearly.
This might not seem like a lot, but truck pay increases quickly as you gain experience and certifications. An experienced driver with a clean record will know how to maximize their miles and routes to make the Cost Per Mile (CPM) climb.
Factors that Impact Truck Driver Pay
To say $0.20 - $0.60 is the average truck driver pay per mile is giving a huge range. It's caused by the wide variety of specialties, employers, and industries involved.
Below is a list of factors impacting driver pay to help you estimate what to expect in your specific situation.
Employers typically pay entry-level drivers a flat Cents Per Mile (CPM) and increase it each year. A common example is making a starting truck driver salary of $45,000-$55,000 year-one as a long-haul driver and $60,000 - $70,000 after a few years. Once a driver has a certain amount of miles under his belt and a reasonably safe and responsible driving record, their truck driving salary is significantly more because:
They get paid a higher Cents Per Mile (CPM) by their employer.
Seasoned truckers are more efficient at managing their time, navigating routes, and handling paperwork, allowing them to drive more miles on average.
Part of the reason location impacts truck driving pay is supply and demand. Areas with high demand for freight transportation and limited availability of truck drivers offer higher pay rates to attract and retain drivers. High-producing regions and areas with ports like Texas, California, and Illinois always need drivers.
Urban areas with heavy traffic and congestion pay more - a driver spending 30 minutes to move 2 miles in New York City wouldn't be pleased with $0.40 per mile.
That said, some states are known for consistently having higher truck driver average salaries. Here are the states with the highest and lowest truck driver salaries in the USA based on Indeed and TruckDriversSalary.com with the most reliable data:
Highest Paying States
Lowest Paying States
Qualifications and Endorsements
Drivers with training and certifications are skilled and less common, earning them a higher 18 wheeler truck driver salary. Resources like roadex.com can help truckers obtain the necessary qualifications for higher-paying roles.
Top Qualifications to Have as a Driver
This is required to haul bulk liquids, containers of liquid greater than 119 gallons, and loads with over 1,000 gallons of liquid or gas. Tanker-endorsed drivers understand that liquid should be driven more carefully and requires navigation of different dangers on the road.
TWIC cards allow drivers to access non-civilian areas, typically ports. Drivers taking a load to a port without a TWIC card require an escort, which costs money each time.
TWIC cards don't fall into a different semi truck driver salary range, but they open doors to more load opportunities.
Double/Triple Trailer Endorsement
This allows the holder to operate vehicles pulling double or triple trailers, also called pup or tandem trailers. Maneuvering and controlling such a combination requires additional skill and awareness due to the increased length and complexity.
Other than hazmat and tanker products, some freight types can afford a higher trucker pay per mile. Companies shipping high-dollar freight have enough margin to offer higher truck pay if it ensures their product is in good hands.
Fresh and frozen seafood shippers have more freight spend than those shipping sod or mulch. Car and vehicle haulers pay a top dollar to get their high-value freight moved safely and quickly. During national emergencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) dishes out emergency funds to ship resources like water and heated trailers. If carriers can capitalize on it, they can earn double or triple what they would on a similar lane.
You can see how specializing in certain industries can boost your CDL salary (Commercial Driver's License salary) over time.
During peak seasons like holidays or agricultural harvests, truck pay increases to meet the higher and time-sensitive demand. During produce season in the south, truck pay skyrockets, giving reefer carriers the chance to negotiate uber-high rates. Similarly, Christmas tree season in Michigan and the Pacific Northwest causes rates to surge, and tomato season in the southeast creates intense truck shortages.
Keep in mind that unless you're an owner-operator, you might not be able to take advantage of the CDL salary (Commercial Driver's License salary) boost that seasonal commodities provide. Learning to navigate demand fluctuations can ensure consistent earnings and an overall higher truck driver average salary.
As in any industry, different roles receive different compensations.
Over-the-road (OTR) drivers travel cross-country loads, often spending weeks away from home at a time. OTR drivers may have preferred lanes like Miami to Los Angeles or Pennsylvania to Phoenix and back. Because this role carries the most sacrifice, long haul truck driver salaries are higher, from $43,000 to $88,000 on average.
Regional trucking still usually requires some nights in the sleeper cab, but weekends, at least, are spent at home. Still lucrative, an average regional truck driver salary is around $60-70,000 per year or $33.65 per hour.
Local trucking refers to drivers with nightly home time, driving short lanes during the day and making it home at night, likely using a day cab with no sleeper. Local truck pay is highly dependent on the region (rural or city miles) and employer (gas stations or local port/railway drops). Average local truck pay is hard to ballpark, but sources report ranges from $0.41 - $0.71 per mile.
Other Factors That Influence CDL Driver Salary
We wanted to note a few honorable mentions, factors that can influence one's truck driving salary that are a bit less controllable or predictable. These things affect driver turnover, earnings per load, and quality of life.
Sometimes your region just has lower demand, and rates will be less than at peek times. Ideally, you can work in an area with as little of this downtime as possible.
If your employer doesn't pay for wait times, long delays at live loads/unloads will cut into your hours and waste a ton of time.
A common complaint from drivers is the lack of miles they get at certain companies. If the goal is to take advantage of every hour of your working day, spending hours sitting still at a dock without compensation is a huge no-no. Check out our list of the best trucking companies to work for in the US according to driver reviews.
Crossing the border into and out of Canada and Mexico can take hours. This cuts into pay for pay-per-mile drivers but not as much for hourly drivers. If you plan to cross the border frequently, choose a company that charges more for the driver to cross.
Sites like OOIDA.com and LandLineMedia.com provide valuable insights and resources for experienced truck drivers to maximize their earnings and stay informed of industry trends. Stay in the know about the highest paying trucking jobs and make sure you're being paid fairly.
How Do Truck Drivers Get Paid: Doing the Math
Cents Per Mile
Most drivers get paid per loaded mile. Truck driving for hourly pay is extremely rare. Each mile you drive with a loaded trailer is paid at some rate, usually from $0.20 - $0.60. Loaded is the keyword here. Deadheading with an empty trailer from receiver to shipper is often unpaid time.
Bonuses and Incentives
It's common for drivers to receive a yearly bonus of $1,000 - $5,000. We don't recommend counting on this as a sure thing toward your class A CDL driver salary, but it's known in the industry that employers reward drivers for quality service and safe driving.
Deductions and Expenses
For lessees and owner-operators, monthly costs are significant. Truckers can write off things like fuel, equipment, vehicle devaluation, repairs, and regular maintenance. While these things definitely add up, the benefit of these deductions is spread out over time and are more complicated to measure.
How Much Does a Truck Driver Make Per Mile?
Company drivers get paid a contracted cents per mile rate and drive from 2,000 to 3,000 miles per week. Owner-operators or lessees have the flexibility to negotiate their Cents Per Mile (CPM) with the broker or shipper, earning anywhere from $0.40 - 0.65 depending on experience and market conditions. Keep in mind, their pay is higher because they have to pay for fuel, insurance, and loans. Most drivers get paid weekly or bi-weekly and keep track of miles driven using the odometer or electronic logging device (ELD).
How much do truck drivers make a week? Anywhere from $800-$2500 on average. This makes the average truck driver salary in the USA anywhere from $40,000 - $80,000.
Owner operators and those doing semi truck leasing have costs to factor in that impact their average truck driver salary.
Fixed Costs for Truckers
Interest on Financing: Semi-trucks are so expensive that the monthly interest accrued on financed trucks gets steep.
Insurance: Includes premiums for liability, cargo, physical damage, gap insurance, etc.
Licensing and Permits: Fees related to truck registration, permits, and licenses require renewal every year or so.
Lease or Rental Costs: If the truck is leased or rented, expenses will be guaranteed and predictable.
Fuel: Estimate fuel costs based on mileage and the current price per gallon. Do truckers pay for gas? No - company drivers receive fuel cards, and owner-operators pay for fuel through their Limited Liability Company (LLC).
Maintenance and Repairs: Consider routine maintenance, repairs, and occasional breakdowns that can happen. Tires must be replaced every 3-6 years and cost $200 - $1,000 each.
Tolls and Parking: Account for tolls, parking fees, scale tickets, overnight parking, and shower access.
Driver Wages: If employing a fleet, driver wages and benefits may vary from month to month.
Top Paying Companies
Headquarters: Joliet, Illinois,
Year Established: 2006
Overview: GP Transco is a carrier company and brokerage providing logistics and warehousing services as well as dedicated shipping. Based on Indeed and several driver testimonies, their average driver pay is $85,000, making them one of the highest-paying CDL jobs we've found. They have a weekly minimum pay guarantee of $1,250 and a base Cents Per Mile (CPM) of $0.58. They're one of the top-paid truck driver job providers without a doubt.
Headquarters: Granger, Iowa
Year Established: 1982
Overview: Barr-Nunn offers $0.72 for solo drivers and $0.98 for experienced teams. $700 - $1,025 safety bonuses come every three months, as do $600 on-road safety bonuses. They're one of the highest paying truck driver jobs, and drivers report feeling respected and fairly compensated here. If you're looking for a high CDL salary (Commercial Driver's License salary), check them out.
Headquarters: Bentonville, AR
Year Established: 1962
Overview: If you meet their strict hiring qualifications, driving for Walmart offers competitive pay and stable work. Walmart boasts some of the lowest turnover rates in the industry. Drivers would enjoy working for one of the highest-paying CDL jobs knowing they're paid well for their hard work.
Highs and Lows: Comparing Truck Driver Salary By Role
Owner operator truck driver salaries are some of the highest because they take on the responsibility of owning and insuring their own equipment. Owner ops work under their own Limited Liability Company (LLC) or a larger trucking company and either book their own loads or have a dispatcher handle guaranteed freight quotes.
An owner-op semi truck driver salary can reach nearly $295,000, with the range on Indeed spanning $188k to $543k. Keep in mind these are gross income numbers.
Company drivers tend to make less on the CDL license salary spectrum. They generally earn between $15 and $25 per hour after calculating monthly Cents Per Mile (CPM). For company drivers, less responsibility = less pay. This is by no means a bad option, and after a few years, the average truck driver salary working for a company climbs.
Delivery drivers can make an average salary of $48,287 per year and many positions won't require a CDL, so if you're still getting yours it might be a good place to start. You can search for delivery opportunities with Amazon and other delivery companies with job boards.
Team drivers, often husband and wife, father and son, or brother and brother, drive around the clock doing long hauls. Because they alternate driving and don't stop for the mandatory hours-long break, their service is speedy and worth a premium price. Teams spend a lot of time on the road and nights in their cab, often coming home every two weeks and relaxing for several days.
Teams split their pay, earning an average team truck driver salary of $119,000 each. Less than 25% of team drivers earn $60,000 or less. Team driving is one of the highest paying trucking jobs.
Because of the required endorsement and skills, tanker truck driver salaries fall on the high side, typically between $45,000 and $87,000 annually. Liquid moves freely compared to solid, secured items. Slamming on the brakes or turning too sharply can cause tipping, and drivers need to understand the physics of this to avoid accidents.
Flatbed truck driver salaries range from $40,000-$90,000 with an average of $61,065. Though the value of common flatbed commodities is low, it requires higher driver involvement through the use of securing freight with straps, tarps, chains, or a number of other materials.
Dry Van Driver
Dry van truckers are not hard to find for employers, hauling non-temperature controlled freight from toilet paper to plastic wrap to canned food. Dry vans can haul up to 45,000 lbs, making them the best way to ship large amounts of goods that don't need refrigeration but do need protection from the elements. Pay falls in line with avg truck driver pay, at $55,000 to $105,000 yearly and $1,000 - $1900 weekly.
Hot Shot Driver
Hot shot trucking involves hauling loads that might typically go on a flatbed bed but are smaller and/or more time sensitive. A hot shot is a large trailer towed by a heavy-duty pickup truck. While pay varies because load volume varies, a hotshot trucker salary ranges from $49,000 to $65,000. Hot shot truckers are typically new and getting their feet wet or veterans seeking a change of pace but want to maintain something close to their semi truck driver salary.
Cota Systems®: Earn More for Every Mile
Cota Systems® connects drivers with shippers to keep trailers full along their route and earn more for every mile driven. One of the best up-and-coming freight brokerage software and load board apps, our system is tailored to make life easier for drivers and dispatchers.
Maximize your owner operator truck driver salary by taking advantage of our user-friendly interface. Upload paperwork, communicate with dispatch, and save time during each step of the process. We collaborate with industry leaders such as roadex.com, thunderfunding.com, and clearitusa.com to provide comprehensive solutions for maximizing per mile pay for truck drivers.
Final Verdict: Do Truck Drivers Make Good Money?
The short answer is yes, and there are a lot of different ways to go about it. Armed with this information about the average truck driver salary, you should be able to make more informed decisions, negotiate with employers, and plan for a financially rewarding and fulfilling career on the open road. As you navigate the world of trucking, take advantage of time-saving tools like our Cota Systems® app for drivers to boost your trucker salary whenever possible.
I joined Cota Systems to help U.S. truckers grow their businesses. I proudly served in the U.S. Navy, managed some of the largest brands on earth, and I'm excited to share what I've learned with you. Truckers are the backbone of our great nation and when you and your family are thriving, so is America! 🇺🇸