Truck driver compensation is highly variable due to a variety of factors. More experience, difficult loads, maintaining a clean driving record, and a willingness to endure risk and travel to remote locations are some of the ways a driver can earn higher than average pay.
For example, a hazmat driver transporting dangerous, toxic materials must operate their commercial vehicle with greater care and alertness. An accident, even a minor one, could lead to the evacuation of entire towns and a high potential for mass casualty incidents or environmental damage from material leaks and even explosions. Contrast this level of risk with that of an average dry van load of toilet paper, and it’s easy to see why a hazmat driver must operate at a higher standard of safety and why a hazmat driver is rewarded with a much higher than average compensation. On the bright side, there are other options besides transporting hazardous materials to increase your pay and we’ll introduce you to these options in this article.
How Much Is a Truck Driver’s Salary?
Salary: $45,000 to $60,000
Truck driver salaries vary depending on region, type of equipment, and a driver’s experience level. The average for drivers with their careers in full swing is around $45,000 to $60,000 annually. Depending on the company and with a safe driving record spanning several years a driver can potentially earn upward of $70,000 or more. Drivers willing to train for extra endorsements and accept increased risk or time spent in remote areas are able to push their earnings much higher than average and we’ll go into that next.
9 Highest Paying Trucking Jobs
Indeed lists the salary as $221,000 but this varies greatly. Of all the ways to earn a living as a driver in the trucking industry, owner-operators are at the top. An owner-operator cannot be classified as a job, and rightly so. These drivers are much, much more. They are business owners operating a trucking company, even if they have just one truck. Their responsibilities take in the full range of a trucking company from managing expenses to finding loads to paying insurance, benefits, and wages to employees. The skies the limit for these drivers and their take home pay will ultimately depend on the amount of work they are willing (or able) to take on.
Owner-Operators with 2.5 years or more experience are eligible to work with CloudTrucks—a virtual carrier that grants owner-operators full freedom to run their business with the back end support of a major carrier by giving them access to hundreds of curated loads without needing to maintain an MC Authority. For the owner operator who wishes to drive under their own authority, we have the Flex program. Once approved, download the app, accept the loads they like and then get to driving. Drivers who’ve signed on with CloudTrucks average a net income of $20,000 per month and get paid in minutes instead of months with our CT Cash card. Head on over to our Getting Started page to learn more.
2. Ice Road Drivers
Salary: $60,000 to $78,000 per season (3-4months).
Ice road driving became a famous aspect of the trucking industry with the History Channel show, Ice Road Truckers. As depicted in the TV show, these drivers operate in the wilderness areas deep in the northern latitudes of Canada. They take on an immense amount of risk as they traverse challenging terrain and dangerous road conditions to deliver cargo to remote towns and mining operations. Optimal conditions for these loads exist for a few short months out of the year and in that short span of time, these drivers earn a full year’s salary, giving them time to pursue other opportunities during the off season or enjoy their time off.
To become an ice road trucker you’ll need several years of experience and a history of safe operation coupled with a familiarity with a broad range of equipment including flatbed, oversized loads, hazmat, dry van, reefer and more. It’s considered one of the most challenging ways to drive a truck but also one of the most lucrative.
3. Oversized Load
Salary: $73,000 – $120,000
Oversized loads, also known as over dimension loads, exceed the standard legal dimensions set by federal regulations. Oversized haulers must display a higher than average skill in maneuvering loads consisting of large items such as construction equipment, wind turbines, mobile homes, and industrial machinery. These drivers must follow additional regulations that specify the routes and times of day these loads are legally allowed to move. Often, an escort crew is required and some companies require the driver to hire their own escort team.
Because these large items are usually quite expensive, additional insurance, and other precautions are required so a higher compensation for the driver behind the wheel of these behemoth loads comes with the territory.
4. Specialty Vehicle Haulers
Salary: $67,000 to 89,000
Specialty vehicle haulers transport high value or specialty vehicles such as race cars, luxury automobiles, collectibles and other expensive items, usually in an enclosed trailer. They must exercise extreme caution at all times to avoid damaging these high value loads. Even when parked, these drivers must take additional precautions to ensure the load isn’t damaged by another driver’s negligence, and follow special procedures to protect against theft.
5. Team Drivers
Team drivers are the pinnacle of high speed long range load delivery. Typically a team consists of two drivers in the same truck, driving in shifts to keep their load moving up to twenty-two hours a day. To give you an idea of how big a difference this makes, consider that it typically takes a solo driver six days to drive from coast to coast. A team can make the same trip in as little as three days. Companies that require such high speed delivery pay more for the service and the team of drivers in turn earns a much higher compensation.
6. Private Fleet
Some major retailers and manufacturers maintain their own fleet of drivers to transport goods from their distribution centers or factories to their stores or customers. One of the most well known private fleets in America is Walmart. Their drivers enjoy higher than average pay, shorter work weeks, and best in industry benefit packages. The caveat to private fleets is their high standards for hiring drivers and some private fleets require many years of experience and clean driving records. They also enjoy extremely low turnover compared to the rest of the trucking industry.
7. Mining Industry Drivers
Salary: $55,000 to 79,000
These drivers operate massive dump trucks in mining and quarry operations. Too large to legally operate on any road, these drivers must maintain a high level of productivity while on the clock while at the same time operating safely in an area where smaller commercial vehicles and company equipment are present. Outside of the mining industry you can find these types of trucks at certain industrial and port locations that use or handle large amounts of raw materials like clay, cement, and other goods used at the base of our nation’s industrial chain.
8. Liquids / Tanker
These are the drivers who transport water, gasses, fuel and more. Because of the physics involved with liquids in large containers, something as simple as turning sharply or slamming on the brakes too hard can cause an instant disaster. A mistake with hazmat liquid loads such as gasoline, or liquid propane can result in large fireballs and extreme heat—often referred to as a “Viking Funeral” by the drivers. Acids and deadly fumes are also a part of the risk package for liquids / tanker drivers and they are often given a wide berth by other drivers on the road. The compensation for liquids/tanker drivers reflects the extremely dangerous loads they transport and the high level of skill they demonstrate in moving these materials safely.
9. Hazmat Drivers
Salary: $55,000 to 73,000 or more.
As mentioned earlier, hazmat drivers have to be on high alert at all times. Their loads consist of dangerous and highly toxic materials, and any accident has a high potential to spark a disaster leading to loss of life, lengthy and expensive clean up, and lost profits for the driver and company. Hazmat drivers must also pass a TSA background investigation and maintain additional endorsements while following additional state and federal regulations.
Because of the need for specialized equipment in many instances, and the additional risks and requirements associated with transporting hazardous materials, hazmat drivers typically earn a substantially higher salary than drivers operating a standard dry van, reefer, or flatbed unit.
Drivers who want to earn more in the trucking industry have a lot of opportunities when they choose to go above and beyond the norm to acquire in-demand skills and endorsements that open new and lucrative doors for a driver’s career. Even if you’ve recently acquired your CDL, these high paying jobs will be within your reach once you’ve put in the time and maintained a safe, clean driving record.