What Are the Highest-Paying Truck Driving Jobs?

White flatbed truck driving at sunrise

It might seem simple to call yourself a truck driver, but there are actually many different jobs in the trucking industry. A number of factors go into determining the highest-paid truck driving jobs.

The salary of each trucking job depends on:

  • The haul being transported
  • How far the cargo is going
  • The responsibilities of the driver

In this article, we’ll give you an inside look at the different types of truck driving professions and how the trucking job type determines the salary.

 What Are The Types of Truck Drivers?

Company Drivers vs Owner-Operators

The first major factor of a truck driver’s salary is whether or not they are a company driver or owner-operator. Owner-operators (O/O), as the name says, own their trucks. They either jump from job-to-job or sign an agreement with a larger company to pull the company’s freight in the O/O’s truck.  Company drivers, by contrast, are employed by the company and drive the company truck.

A red tractor stands alone against the blue sky
Owner-operators own their own trucks.

A company driver does not have nearly as many responsibilities as an owner-operator. For example, a company driver doesn’t have to worry about paying for a truck’s maintenance. The company they work for handles everything.

Owner-operators don’t have this luxury. If the truck breaks down, it’s their responsibility. Some owner-ops may be covered by lower insurance rates, dispatching services, and cheaper permits if they signed an agreement with a trucking company.

Owner-operators also have to find their own freight to haul, but they spend a lot of unpaid time trying to contract loads from different companies.

Company drivers get their loads from the dispatcher. This is much easier, but they have limited control over what load is being transported or when they will be traveling. Their salary is wholly dependent on the company.

As a result of the extra work, being an owner-operators can be one of the highest-paying truck driving jobs. Because owner-operators are heavily involved with each decision regarding their career, we don’t recommended this path for beginners.  Most of all, you don’t want to purchase a truck and then find out that you don’t enjoy driving a truck for a living! Successful owner-operators usually have years behind the wheel before they purchase their first truck.

Here’s a Quick Comparison:

Company Driver:

  • Great for rookie drivers to start their trucking career
  • Less stress and fewer responsibilities
  • Covered by your company’s insurance if there are issues on the road
  • Paid at an hourly rate or per mile
  • Not entirely your own boss
  • May have to pick up a load that another driver left, with any problems that entails

 Owner-Operator:

  • Requires a large amount of financial savings: Typically 2-4 months operating expenses to get started
  • Essentially run their own trucking business
  • There is no overhead coverage if things go wrong
  • Has the potential to hire other truckers
  • Paid as a percentage of the total freight delivery
  • Negotiate rates yourself
  • Pay insurance

OTR (Long-Haul) vs Local vs Regional

If you want to get paid to travel cross-country, then you want to become an over-the-road, or OTR driver. This type of trucker stays on the road for long stretches of time. This means living out of the truck, so OTR drivers (also called “long-haul”) have one of the highest-paying truck driving jobs to make up for their lack of time spent at home.

Tanker driving to the horizon
Long-haul truck drivers make more money.

Many owner-operators that are OTR drivers experience a noticeable increase in income around the holidays, in the summer, and during produce season if they drive a refrigerated (reefer) truck.

In comparison to long-haul drivers, local drivers haul cargo close to home and typically drive within 150 miles of their home city. This makes it possible for a trucker to return home every night.

The downside is that local drivers are not paid as well as their OTR counterparts, and these jobs are rarely available for new truck drivers.

Local drivers drivers are usually paid by the hour.

Regional drivers fall somewhere in the middle. Regional truck driver travel within 500-700 miles of their home terminal and can often be home 2-3 times a week. These jobs usually make as much as OTR. The combination of salary and home time make regional positions highly desirable.

Solo vs Team Truck Drivers

Solo truck drivers are the most common type of trucker. When two solo truckers pair up and tackle a run together, they are referred to as team drivers. Team drivers are needed when a load has to get to its destination immediately. For example, to cover 1,150 miles with a full truck load it usually takes two days for a solo driver to complete. A team, though, can easily achieve this in one day. One driver keeps moving while the other sleeps.

Husband and wife team truck drivers with their truck
Husband and wife is a popular trucking team.

Team drivers often work for auto manufacturers, produce shippers, and package delivery companies (Fed Ex, UPS and the US Mail) because the freight it time-sensitive.

The pay for team driving is split down the middle, 50/50. If a 4500-mile run earns 20 cents per mile, the team drivers each receive $450 before tax.

Accomplished, established teams can earn up to $150,000 a year, split 50/50.

Often, team drivers are in a relationship of some sorts. This arrangement makes sense for a married couple that wants to get out and see the country.

Team drivers live together in the small cab, day in and day out. Small conflicts get magnified, so be careful who you choose to team with if you take this path.

Specialty Drivers

Truck drivers are also defined by the types of freight they deliver, which leads into the next question of how you can make more money as a truck driver. Specialty drivers are able to deliver high-paying cargo that other drivers are not qualified to haul, such as over-sized, or hazardous loads. 

Another viable option for truckers is to become a less than truckload or LTL carrier. These truckers haul small packages or freight that does not fill up the entire trailer. A few popular LTL carriers include UPS, FedEx, and YRC. Less than truckload driving frequently involves multiple stops.

  How Do the Different CDL Classifications Affect My Pay?

Drivers who want a career in trucking need a Commercial Driver’s License, or CDL. There are three different categories of CDL that determine what you can drive: Class A, B, and C. 

  • CLASS A  CDL

Class A CDL truck drivers may operate any combination of vehicles that have a GCWR (gross combination weight) of 26,001 pounds or more. Drivers with this license may safely operate tractor-trailers of all varieties, livestock carriers, and flatbeds. Long-haul drivers with a Class A CDL typically earn an average salary of $44,000 while experienced specialty drivers earn even more.

Specialty drivers use the Class A license to drive specialized trucks with refrigerated trailers or tankers. They can easily earn more than $50,000 annually. The substantial pay increase is primarily due to the risk involved and the extra training associated with the position. To take on specialty freight, drivers need to pass additional endorsement tests in addition to the standard CDL written test.

  • CLASS B CDL

Class B CDL drivers operate single vehicles with a GCWR of 26,001 pounds or more. This type of license lets you drive a vehicle that is towing a unit with a GCWR under 10,000 pounds. Earning this type of CDL will permit drivers to operate straight trucks, large buses, dump trucks, and box trucks. Due to the wide range of vehicles that the Class B CDL covers, the average truck driver salary varies between $20,000 and $40,000 annually.

  • CLASS C CDL

Large vehicles that do not fit in the Class A or B categories require a Class C CDL. Drivers with this license may drive mini hazmat vehicles, passenger vans, and smaller trucks. Operating these lighter vehicles for a living accrues an annual salary of approximately $30,000.

 

About The Authors
Contributors: Sade Turner (Logistics for 5+ years and technical writer), Jessica Cottner (Experienced writer with a background in travel and transportation).

Expert review: William Mason (Current CDL Instructor and former truck driver with 20+ years of experience), Luke Nold (Experienced truck driver for 5+ years and published writer for Fleet Magazine).

2 Comments

  1. Mason and Nold , not a lot of time behind the wheel. My dad was a O/O and l have over 30yr of OTR and Local (CA) experience of tanks, vans,(closed and open tops), flat’s (doubles)…Dry and wet vans, low boy flats heavy haul (single)…High $, (500k plus)and haz mat…I ran long n hard, I became atop driver in 2/3yr because I wasn’t afraid to get the job done. I learn from senior DVRs
    by listening n asking questions and for help at times…I ended up becoming a out law dvr…. Remember, keep the dirty down,
    n the shiny up……B SAFE

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