So, when it comes to the trucking industry, the only limits on your earning potential are really up to you. Perform at the highest level and be paid at the highest level.
There are several different ways that truck drivers get paid. We've highlighted a few of the methods below.
Truckers paid hourly wages are normally restricted to local or regional operations. These trucking positions will generally require more hands-on work, such as loading and unloading freight.
Local and regional routes are highly prized, and most will go to highly qualified and experienced truckers. Those just breaking into the industry will likely spend a few years driving over-the-road (OTL) until they accrue enough seniority to drive regional , local, or dedicated routes with most carriers.
Most over-the-road (OTL) drivers will get paid by the mile. However, CPM pay can fall into several categories. Knowing the difference matters when comparing potential compensation structures.
Household Goods Miles, or HHG, which is an industry term for "as the crow flies". Briefly, this won't cover all of the actual miles driven or factor in the time spent, and typically this is a rate that runs about 5-10% less than the actual miles covered. For a good breakdown of the difference between HHG and practical miles, check out this article: What's the difference between HHG and Practical Route?.
Generally, this is how owners-operators make their money. Usually, the more ambitious, veteran, business-minded drivers, while grossing 100% for the load, assume all the risk and expenses. Being an owner-operator is not for newbies or the faint of heart.
Getting per diem pay means you will receive a certain amount of your pay tax-free, putting more money in your pocket every week.
Per diem pay is based on the money used for meals and lodging. You can read more about Per Diem Truck Driver Pay here.
One thing to be aware of with per diem pay is that many employers will charge an "administrative fee" to the driver, which can add up over time.
There are many other factors beyond your salary to consider when choosing where to work, like the cost of living, climate, family location, etc.). But, for a simple comparison, trucker income broken down by state may be one of the best places to start your decision-making process.
Below are the most recent median (or middle-of-the-pack) salaries for truck drivers by state. Again, with no other considerations, you should expect to make the most money as a truck driver living in Washington, D.C., and the least in sunny Hawaii.
Aside from their regular salary, there are many other extras, perks, or compensation that drivers can earn on top of their salary. These will vary by company. All trucking companies and driving jobs will be different, so drivers must choose the opportunity that best fits their needs. Some of the most common examples of additional items that drivers can get paid for include:
Many companies will pay a lump-sum cash bonus just for taking a job with them! Usually, the amount depends on a driver's experience level and what division the applicant will be joining. Factors can include a minimum length of service, miles driven, safety record, and more.
This bonus is typically paid out to flatbedders. In addition, some companies will pay an extra amount per load to drivers hauling cargo that must be tarped first.
A good carrier will pay a driver if they are delayed due to a truck breakdown. This ensures that a driver gets paid while stranded.
Drivers who have a wait or delay between loads may get paid by their company if the delay is beyond the drivers' control.
If a driver must wait at a shipper or receiver to get loaded or unloaded, they may receive detention pay. Policies vary, but carriers often charge the shipper or receiver, especially in cases of missing specific appointment times.
Driving a truck in New York City is such a pain. This means many companies will pay extra to drivers willing to pick up and deliver in the boroughs of The Big Apple.
Over-Dimensional Load Pay:
Oversize pay pertains only to oversized flatbed trailers (or over-dimensional) in height, width, or weight. These loads generally require another level of attention from the driver because there are often specialized routes, rules, restrictions, and permits involved. You may also need a "pilot car" as an escort. Some companies will pay an incentive to drivers willing to take on the added responsibility.
Fuel Efficiency Bonuses:
Fuel is one of the top two expenses for trucking companies. As a result, many carriers will reward drivers who show they can use less of it. Simple steps to save on fuel include:
Safe Driving Bonus Incentives:
Many companies will pay flat bonuses or per-mile bonuses to truck drivers who avoid preventable accidents or losses. Maintaining a minimum CSA score is also a good idea.
Extra Stop Pay:
Extra stop pay is given to drivers who make stops at multiple delivery locations. Usually, these bonuses apply to local or regional truck drivers. (The first and last stops are often excluded.
Driver Unload Pay:
If truck drivers are required to handle the freight during unloading, they may qualify for this bonus. It is most common among local and regional delivery drivers. Depending on the company, the bonus could be paid per stop, per pallet, or in other ways.
Some companies offer extra per-mile pay if the load takes them into, or through, our neighbor to the north. This bonus is mostly to make up for the hassle of an international border crossing. As a reminder, these routes would require a valid passport for the driver.
There is extra attention to be paid when hauling a refrigerated trailer or reefer. Some carriers will give additional compensation to a driver for doing it.
Some companies will give a driver a per mile bonus for hauling HAZMAT cargo and additional Hazmat safety bonuses.
Driver Referral Bonuses:
Many carriers will give drivers a bonus for recruiting other drivers into the company. However, such bonuses typically depend on the new driver staying with the company for a minimum period of time.
Clean Inspection Bonuses:
Increasingly popular since the new CSA program went into effect, drivers who generate "No Violation Found" roadside inspections are awarded cash bonuses by their employer. For more on the inspection program, check out the CSA's inspector factsheet here.
On-Time Delivery Bonus:
While all deliveries are expected to be made on time, some companies offer an incentive to drivers who can achieve exceptionally high rates of on-time deliveries.
Team Mileage Bonus Pay:Team drivers are paid a bonus for productivity for driving a specific number of miles in a week and earn additional mileage pay for any miles over that.
The pay for different types of hauling jobs will differ depending on various factors, including a driver's experience or location. However, some types of jobs will pay more than others. For example, flatbed drivers will earn $10,000 more per year than dry van truckers under some circumstances. Better pay generally goes to more specialized jobs such as hauling cars and LTL freight. Jobs such as hauling a reefer come next. The jobs that require the least amount of experience or endorsements will typically pay the least.
Of course, there is more than pay to consider when choosing between potential driving job types. Lifestyle and other factors can be important too. Check out this brief video for some differences between hauling dry van , refrigerated, and flatbed specifically:
The following are answers to some of the most common questions we get here at Trucking Truth regarding truck driver pay.
How Do Team Drivers Get Paid?
Most companies will pay teams a per-mile rate for the team, which will be split evenly between the drivers, regardless of how many miles each drives. Other companies will split the miles driven per team and pay each driver a specific per-mile rate (which may lead to payments of different amounts for the same trip).
Team drivers are usually paid less per mile than solo drivers. However, they can make more money by keeping that big rig rolling and racking up more mileage than solo drivers. Solo drivers sit idle more often due to hours-of-service (HOS) regulations.
When do Truck Drivers Get Paid?
Most truckers are paid weekly, though this can vary from company to company. Some companies may pay more or less frequently, such as daily or biweekly. Therefore, studying a potential employer's compensation package is vital before signing on to haul for a new operation.
Werner, for example, pays weekly and makes many of the details of its compensation package publicly available on its website.
Will I Be Paid During CDL Training and Company Training?
Most companies will not start paying drivers until they have their CDL or have started their on-the-road training phase. However, each company has a different timetable for this. Some companies, like Roehl, will get you in the truck as soon as possible and pay you as an employee from day 1.
"Per Diem" is translated from Latin as "per day." The phrase relates to trucking as a way that companies pay their drivers a portion of their salary as a meal and expense reimbursement. The main benefit of taking a per diem is that the money is untaxed.
Drivers who don't get paid per diem would typically take a standard daily meal deduction when doing their taxes. This reduction currently sits at $63 a day, or $68 per day for travel outside the Continental U.S., effective Oct. 1, 2016.
Taking the Standard Meal Deduction will require drivers to figure out how many days they've spent on the road in the previous year.
There are pros and cons to consider with per diem. This trucker's video does a good job of breaking down some of the key points.
In the short term, getting paid per diem gives drivers larger paychecks by not taxing a part of it.
Longer-term, per diem pay reduces a driver's gross income and tax liability because it does not technically count as income. Therefore, per diem pay could reduce the tax return that a driver may expect during tax season. Each driver needs to decide which system is the best fit for their needs.
The IRS will also allow drivers to deduct 80% of their unreimbursed DOT per diem allowance for tax purposes, which may be subject to hours-of-service limitations.
If you are getting paid per diem - that payment is 100% tax-free. You would multiply the $63 per day by how many days you were out. Subtract the total per diem payments, then 80% of the remainder (the $63 per day MINUS per diem payments) would be your deduction.
The IRS established special criteria for transportation workers regarding the "standard meal allowance" that drivers can take on their taxes:
Generally, in terms of dollar amounts and the standard meal deduction, most drivers will take home nearly the same amount after taxes whether they get per diem or not.
Some of the best paying trucking companies include Sysco, Walmart, Epes Transport, and Acme Truck Line. All of which are known for paying their drivers in excess of $80,000 annually.
According to the online job recruiting website ZipRecruiter, the truck drivers that make the most tend to be drivers who specialize in hauling dangerous, oversized, or LTL freight. Often regional and local truckers won't be paid as much as truckers that are OTR or long haul.
Due to various factors, pay for truck drivers has increased in recent years by 8% or more and this trend shows no sign of stopping. Many companies have increased the amount of pay they are offering to their newest employees in hopes of attracting more talent to the industry.
User P.J. from Elberton, GA, on what rookies should consider about lease operator options:
"There are a lot of trucking companies offering to lease. Some are better than others, but none of them are in your best interest. I did it for a year with a major carrier. I paid all the bills and could only pull their freight. Which meant they dictated everything from where I went to how much I made. As long as you're making enough to cover the bills they are happy.
You may not be as happy. Also, the pay rates differ on loads. Are you looking at a mileage rate or percentage?? Will you pull the company's trailers or not??? Will they charge you a trailer lease fee also??? Oh, and maintenance still has to be cleared through them each and every time because they are paying the vendor and then recovering it out of your maintenance account or next settlement. I can go on about the money variables, but I think you get the picture."
User Turtle from Upstate, NY, on the possibility of truckers making six figures:
"Efficiency is certainly a part of it. One could argue that without being efficient, nothing else really matters.hen it comes to garnering those higher incomes, the whole package comes into play. Along with efficiency, you need to have a willingness to go above and beyond to get the job done.
Read the article Show Me The Money by Old School. It clearly explains the best path to a successful and lucrative trucking career.
Another thing to note: Keeping your safety and service record and license clean will make you more attractive to some higher paying or niche companies, should you wish to go that route somewhere down the road. Many of those companies require a spotless track record before even considering you for hire. Setting yourself up to take advantage of those opportunities as they arise is key in moving up the ranks and moving up the pay scale."
User Susan D. from Central (I-65 Corridor), K.Y. on getting your CDL and company-sponsored training:
A CDL will not make you a truck driver. CDL Schools (even company-sponsored) teach you just enough to pass your CDL Skills tests.
That said, as a new inexperienced driver, you will have to go through a company training program to teach you to operate the truck safely and efficiently while having the luxury of a 1 on 1 trainer. That's how you become a truck driver. Oh, that moment when you check out your very own truck for the first time…. Something I'll never forget!! Excited, exhilarated, and terrified all at the same time. I must have sat there for an hour going, like, "Wow!"
User Old School from Nacogdoches, TX on choosing a first employer in the industry:
This whole notion of "this company is bad, and this company is good," is so baseless that it is difficult to understand how it so rampantly weaves its deception into each and every newbie's research. People put such undue stress on themselves while researching which company to start with, and then even after they get started, they are stressed to an even greater degree with the anxiety that they may have made the wrong decision. We struggle daily here to dispel these modern-day internet "old wives' tales." It is ludicrous to believe that one company is going to pay you more per mile because they don't have as many miles to give you, or that another is going to pay you less per mile because they have got so many miles they don't know how to get it all done.
…. My philosophy is that you will make this job what you want it to be by your work ethic and willingness to push through whatever difficulties arise to hinder you. As far as which companies are "good" I consider them all to be trucking companies - they've all got the same issues because they are all trying to do the same thing, move freight from point A to point B. So many people jump into this career with false assumptions based on foolish reports and notions that they have picked up from internet "review sites". Have you ever noticed how 99% of the people who post reviews are people who are dissatisfied in an extreme way? That in itself should be a big red flag to any thinking person. This business of being able to be anonymous, and being hidden behind a keyboard, has emboldened a bunch of people, who are generally failures at most things they attempt, to lay the blame for their ineptitude at the feet of "big greedy trucking magnates who are still practicing slavery in their business models".
User G-Town from Lewe, DE on how to find a good trucking company:
I focus my attention on my DM (driver manager) and to a lesser extent the planner on-duty when I am driving. Much of your success and/or failure depends on that relationship. You and your D.M. are a team with the same exact goal; move the freight as safely and efficiently as possible. Work with them, document conversations, and keep them informed on what is happening.
If you search on the following criteria: DM , driver manager , dispatcher , and, or planner you will see a consistent and repeatable theme. Other than operating your truck, that relationship is within your direct control to influence in a positive or negative way. Once you "get this", your income and happiness will move in an upward direction.
Information about truck drivers' per diem deduction, and travel and meal expenses, can be found in IRS Publication 463
A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:
Explosive, flammable, poisonous or otherwise potentially dangerous cargo. Large amounts of especially hazardous cargo are required to be placarded under HAZMAT regulations
The customer who is shipping the freight. This is where the driver will pick up a load and then deliver it to the receiver or consignee.
A driver or carrier who transports cargo between regular, prescribed routes. Normally it means a driver will be dedicated to working for one particular customer like Walmart or Home Depot and they will only haul freight for that customer. You'll often hear drivers say something like, "I'm on the Walmart dedicated account."
Usually refers to a driver hauling freight within one particular region of the country. You might be in the "Southeast Regional Division" or "Midwest Regional". Regional route drivers often get home on the weekends which is one of the main appeals for this type of route.
Refers to carriers that make a lot of smaller pickups and deliveries for multiple customers as opposed to hauling one big load of freight for one customer. This type of hauling is normally done by companies with terminals scattered throughout the country where freight is sorted before being moved on to its destination.
LTL carriers include:
OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.
The CSA is a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) initiative to improve large truck and bus safety and ultimately reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities that are related to commercial motor vehicle
The FMCSA was established within the Department of Transportation on January 1, 2000. Their primary mission is to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries.
What Does The FMCSA Do?
A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.
State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.
Drivers are often paid by the mile and it's given in cents per mile, or cpm.
A Company-Sponsored Training Program is a school that is owned and operated by a trucking company.
The schooling often requires little or no money up front. Instead of paying up-front tuition you will sign an agreement to work for the company for a specified amount of time after graduation, usually around a year, at a slightly lower rate of pay in order to pay for the training.
If you choose to quit working for the company before your year is up, they will normally require you to pay back a prorated amount of money for the schooling. The amount you pay back will be comparable to what you would have paid if you went to an independently owned school.
Company-sponsored training can be an excellent way to get your career underway if you can't afford the tuition up front for private schooling.
Getting paid per diem means getting a portion of your salary paid to you without taxes taken out. It's technically classified as a meal and expense reimbursement.
Truck drivers and others who travel for a living get large tax deductions for meal expenses. The Government set up per diem pay as a way to reimburse some of the taxes you pay with each paycheck instead of making you wait until tax filing season.
Getting per diem pay means a driver will get a larger paycheck each week but a smaller tax return at tax time.
We have a ton of information on our wiki page on per diem pay
A refrigerated trailer.
Operating While Intoxicated
When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.