When a person is considering a job or career, one of the first questions usually asked has to do with compensation. “How much should I expect to earn?” It’s a practical question. Whether a person loves their work or not, you still have to make a living. If a person has what it takes to handle the job, being a truck driver can provide a good steady income. But that still leaves the question, “How much?” It’s a pretty simple question, but the answer really isn’t. There are a lot of variables that can affect how much money a person earns as a truck driver.
The first questions to answer are, “Do you want to be home every night?” and “How big a truck do you want to drive?” As a general rule, short local hauling pays less, as does driving something smaller than a semi. Those drivers are usually paid by the hour, and their hourly rate can have quite a range depending on your geographical location and the company you work for. Some drivers earn as little as $12 per hour, while others may make as much as $16 per hour or more. Generally speaking, the hourly pay is lower, but there is the advantage of not being on the road overnight, or having to drive an 18-wheeler around town through traffic.
The pay for over-the-road truckers, or OTR trucking, gets more complicated, but there are some guidelines. OTR drivers’ pay can vary based on experience, the company, the type of freight, and the miles driven. Like any job, the more experience, the better the pay. The company a driver works for can make a difference too. In general, larger companies are able to offer better compensation and benefits. Keep in mind, that’s a generalized statement, and there may be exceptions.
The most common factor affecting how much a driver will earn is how many miles they are driving. Although some companies may pay by the hour, most pay by the mile. The amount paid per mile can vary from a range of as little as 20 cents per mile to as much as 40 cents or more. Experience, geographical location of the company and the weight or type of freight can affect the per-mile rate. Also, the transport of hazardous or flammable materials will often pay a higher rate and sometimes include bonuses.
Before you start thinking, “If I can put on huge numbers of miles, I can really push my income”, remember that the number of hours truck drivers are allowed to drive per day are strictly regulated by the government. Those hours have to be carefully and accurately recorded in a log book that is subject to inspection by the Department of Transportation. Irregularities in a driver’s log book will result in substantial fines. Those restrictions are for everyone’s safety, but still allow a person to earn a good income.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, the average income for truck drivers was $39,400 per year. That means some may earn less and other substantially more. Since these are numbers for 2010, the average now is probably somewhat higher, but it gives a general idea of how a trucker’s income stacks up when compared to other occupations. With experience, over-time and bonuses for transporting certain types of freight, although it’s not typical, some drivers may earn nearly $100,000 in a year.
If a person chooses to be an owner/operator rather than drive for someone else, the potential for earning can be higher. Of course there are some major expenses involved that need to be considered such as fuel costs, licenses and fees, insurance, maintenance costs, not having company benefits or vacation pay, and other risks. Operating costs for an owner/operator may be as high as 70% of their gross income.
For someone who enjoys driving, seeing the sights that are out there on the road, has the right skills, and doesn’t mind being away from home or working alone, being an over-the-road trucker can be a good career choice. The pay and the benefits can be great and the work will always be in demand. It’s an important job. After all, most of what keeps America going travels on 18 wheels.