The trucking industry is a very large industry with many different opportunities to make great pay and there are many different lifestyles you can have as a trucker.
Naturally, truck driver pay varies depending on region of transport, type of equipment, type of cargo being hauled, and a driver’s experience level.
Some may want to start as a smaller hotshot driver where they stay in a local region and drive smaller equipment. This option does not require a driver to have a CDL (commercial drivers license).
But, if you are looking to haul commercial loads, it is easier to get hired anywhere with a Class A CDL. After getting a Class A , drivers can obtain additional CDL Endorsements to expand on the type of cargo they are allowed to haul. By expanding on your endorsements, you can open doors for specialty positions and make even more money.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is the average pay for Commercial Truck Drivers?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Class A CDL drivers are making an average of $47,000 per year. However, more experiences and qualified drivers are earning more every year.
There are three main ways fleets pay truck drivers.
- Pay by the Hour: While this method is less common for truckers, the average hourly wage varies depending on a driver’s geographical area and experience level. Hourly pay can range between $19 – $26/hr.
Many truck drivers prefer this method because the pay is more predictable and regular whether they are waiting at a dock for a load or driving down the road. Hourly wages can offer greater consistency to truckers but can often result in less pay than other methods.
- Pay Based on Mileage: The most common form of payment for truck drivers is pay per mile. Drivers can be paid $0.20 to $0.60 per mile. But this method is less predictable as you can wait at a dock for an hour and not be paid for that downtime.
If a trucker’s pay per mile is paid based on practical mileage, their pay is calculated based on the miles logged by the driver’s electronic logging device (ELD). A sliding scale mileage pay method typically pays drivers a higher wage for shorter trips. A hub mileage pay method is based on odometer readings.
- Pay by Annual Salary: Some trucking companies set an annual salary, but salaried pay may be based on a 40-hour work week, and truckers would be classified as exempt employees not eligible for overtime pay. This pay method may include better benefits and predictability, but could result in less pay than other methods.
How do I make the most money as a truck driver?
Drivers who want to earn more in the trucking industry have a lot of opportunities to acquire high-demand skills and endorsements.
Hazmat CDL Endorsement (H): Roughly one-quarter of all freight hauled in the United States is transported in tanker trucks, and of that, nearly half is petroleum products like gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel.
To haul hazardous material, drivers and companies face many rules, regulations, and requirements because hauling fuel and HAZMAT is a dangerous job.
This danger leads to a constant high demand for hazardous material drivers as well as a much higher pay.
Hazmat loads consist of dangerous and highly toxic materials found in 9 different classes: Explosives, Gases, Flammable Liquid, Flammable Solids, Oxidizing Substances, Toxic Substances, Radioactive Material, Corrosives, and Miscellaneous Dangerous Goods.
To be certified to haul hazmat, drivers must pass a TSA background investigation and maintain additional endorsements while following state and federal regulations.
Tanker CDL Endorsement (N): A tanker endorsements means drivers are qualified to drive any tank vehicle. These drivers transport water, different types of gas, fuel and more.
Hauling liquids in large containers can be difficult because turning sharply or slamming on the brakes too hard can cause the trailer to tip. A mistake with hazmat liquid loads such as gasoline, or liquid propane can result in large fireballs and extreme heat.
These drivers have a high level of skill in moving liquid materials safely and are often paid much more than regular CDL drivers.
Doubles/Triples Endorsement (T): This endorsement allows drivers to pull double or triple trailers with a commercial motor vehicle. To qualify, you must pass the Doubles and Triples Endorsement Knowledge Test and pass a vision screening.
Other endorsements include: Passenger Endorsement (P), School Buss Endorsement (S), and HAZMAT/Tank Combination Endorsement (X).
What loads pay the most to haul?
Beyond endorsements, there are special types of loads or hauling styles that often pay truck drivers more. These include oversized loads and specialty or luxury vehicle haulers.
Oversized Loads: While there are no specific requirements or endorsements to haul an oversize load, experience and skill are key for these drivers.
Oversized loads are over dimension loads that exceed the legal dimensions set by federal regulations for large item loads, such as industrial machinery, mobile homes, construction equipment, wind turbines, or flight and space equipment.
These drivers must follow additional regulations that specify the routes and times of day these loads are legally allowed to move so they do not affect bridges, heavy traffic times, and more.
Specialty or Luxury Vehicle Cargo: Generally, the more expensive the cargo, the more a driver is paid. Specialty vehicle haulers transport high value vehicles. This includes luxury vehicles, collectibles, and race cars enclosed in a trailer.
Due to the expensive cargo, drivers must have extreme caution when driving to avoid damaging the loads. Specialty vehicle loads may even require special theft procedures when parked overnight.
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