How Much Do Truck Drivers Make? Average Pay for Graduates
Truck drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) can often make a good income, no matter where they work. Those with specialized endorsements and skills stand to make even more money working in this in-demand career.
Read on to learn about average truck driver salaries, pay for various driving positions, and how you can increase your salary as a truck driver.
Jump to average pay for Southwest Truck Driver Training grads
Average Truck Driver Salary in U.S. (Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Driver Salary)
In 2020, the average annual salary for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in the U.S. was $48,710, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This equates to an average hourly pay of $23.42 per hour and a median annual wage of $47,130.
How Much Can Truck Drivers Make?
While average trucking salaries hover under the annual mean wage for all occupations in the U.S. ($56,310), drivers can earn significantly more based on the type of job, years of experience, endorsements, and more. For instance, BLS figures show that the highest 10% of heavy and tractor-trailer drivers earned more than $69,480 in 2020, while the lowest 10% earned less than $30,660.
Truck driver salaries can also vary significantly from the national average, depending on a driver’s location. Based on 2020 BLS data, these are the top-paying states for truck drivers:
|District of Columbia||$56,440|
Large cities also tend to pay higher salaries. In several of the 10 most populated cities in the U.S., truck drivers can earn well above the national average:
|U.S. City||Average Salary|
|San Jose, CA||$61,540|
|New York City, NY||$58,580|
|Los Angeles, CA||$51,190|
|San Diego, CA||$50,650|
In some metropolitan areas, the average annual salary is over $60,000:
|Metropolitan Area||Average Salary|
|Barnstable Town, MA||$62,600|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||$62,290|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||$61,540|
Top-Paying Truck Driving Jobs
No matter where you live, some types of trucking jobs pay more than others, usually because they require additional endorsements, skills, and experience.
OTR Truck Driver Pay
OTR (over-the-road) truck drivers haul goods over long distances, usually with significant time away from home. OTR drivers can expect to drive hundreds of miles per day, spending weeks sleeping in their truck’s berth. These demanding work conditions often come with a higher pay rate, with average reported salaries between $63,888 and $118,005 per year. According to Indeed, OTR drivers can earn 24% more than the average base salary for truck drivers.
Many trucking carriers calculate OTR drivers’ pay using CPM (cents per mile). Although the CPM rate varies by company, $0.56 to $0.60 CPM is the norm. Driving an average of 2,500 miles/week and earning $0.60 CPM, an OTR driver can earn around $78,000/year, not including bonuses and other pay.
HAZMAT Driver Pay
Drivers with an H (HAZMAT) or X (tanker/HAZMAT) endorsement on their CDL can transport hazardous materials, including explosives, radioactive materials, flammable goods, and corrosive materials. The increased risk and training for HAZMAT driving also usually comes with a higher pay rate, up to 8% more than the average pay.
HAZMAT drivers earn an average annual salary of $64,673, with the top 10% earning $82,805 or more a year. Some companies pay their hazardous materials drivers $0.62 or more CPM.
Tanker Truck Driver Pay
Tanker drivers transporting liquids must also have additional endorsements—either an N endorsement for tankers or an X endorsement. These additional certifications, along with the challenges of hauling liquids, make this type of driving more lucrative than regular truck driving.
Truck drivers that haul tankers can earn nearly 5% more than non-tanker drivers, with average annual salaries between $57,595 and $81,469. The higher wages are usually associated with fuel tanker drivers or tanker drivers who transport HAZMAT. A non-HAZMAT tanker driver may make $0.52 CPM.
Flatbed Driver Pay
Flatbed trucking involves towing an open platform trailer designed to carry large or odd-shaped materials that wouldn’t fit in a traditional enclosed trailer. An essential aspect of the job for flatbed truck drivers is knowing how to secure cargo properly and safely transport oversized loads. This unique set of skills often means flatbed truckers earn higher salaries.
The average yearly salary for a flatbed truck driver is $62,425, with more experienced drivers making up to $85,965. Drivers generally earn $0.55 to $0.58 CPM, with additional pay for over-dimensional loads (averaging up to $0.85 CPM for some companies).
Average Pay for Other Trucking Jobs
While some truck drivers, particularly OTR and owner operator drivers, can make well into the six figures, nearly all trucking jobs come with a healthy salary and great long-term earning potential—including these popular driving jobs.
Local Truck Driver Pay
Local truck drivers generally have set schedules and transport cargo and goods to nearby locations. They may be responsible for loading and unloading at several stops throughout the day and are usually paid per hour. Although some local drivers may operate large tractor-trailers, those who drive light trucks make an average annual salary of $41,050. Other local drivers make around $51,355 per year, according to 2022 data from ZipRecruiter.
LTL Driver Pay
LTL (less-than-truckload) drivers transport freight from multiple clients at once and, like local truck drivers, often make several stops to load and unload cargo during a shift. Often paid by the hour or by drop-off and pickup, LTL drivers can make average annual incomes of around $53,088.
Regional Truck Driver Pay
Regional drivers haul freight over a regional area of the country, generally within 1,000 miles from their home base. With regular home time and fairly consistent schedules, regional truck drivers are usually paid by the mile, with annual earnings of around $60,969. Per mile pay rates vary widely, depending on the company and specific position, but job postings advertise anywhere from $0.60 CPM to $0.89 CPM.
Reefer Driver Pay
Also called refrigerated truck drivers, reefer drivers transport various goods that must be kept cold or frozen. Due to the perishable nature of the cargo, refrigerated deliveries are often on an expedited delivery timeline and may require special handling. The average base salary for reefer truck drivers is $59,322 per year, with per-mile rates around $0.65 CPM.
Car Hauler Truck Driver Pay
Because auto haulers must have certain skill sets and experience to maneuver and transport multiple large vehicles on their truck and trailer, they often earn a higher rate. Average yearly salaries are around $81,119 for car hauler drivers in the U.S.
How to Increase Truck Driver Salary
Besides focusing on some of the higher-paying trucking jobs above, there are ways to increase your salary to earn higher than average wages.
First, consider getting CDL endorsements that can increase your earning potential. Endorsements for HAZMAT, doubles/triples, and tanker can all give you access to well-paying jobs.
Before you commit to a company, do your research to find those that pay the best rates and offer hiring, mileage, and safety bonuses—all of which can significantly increase your overall pay. You can also look into team driving, which enables you to drive more miles and potentially earn more money.
Once you’ve got some experience under your belt, becoming an owner operator could jump your annual salary to nearly $300,000!
Average Pay for SWTDT Grads
The good news is that SWTDT graduates often make higher than average salaries in trucking. For instance, while truck drivers in the U.S. made average annual wages of $48,710 in 2020 (BLS), SWTDT grads in OTR and regional positions make at least $50,000 a year:
|Type of Truck Driving||Average Pay|
|Dedicated||Varies, usually a salary or % of load|