Truck driver pay and benefits varies widely from driver to driver. Other than training wages that a company might pay during the first few days or weeks of employment, long-haul drivers are usually paid by the mile. If you have a local route and stay in your home city all the time, you might be paid an hourly rate with extra pay for overtime. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wages of light or delivery truck drivers in May of 2015 were $16.38.
In addition to receiving pay by the mile, company drivers usually have all fuel costs paid by the company. Experienced drivers with good safety records often get first choice of assignments, and they also get a higher per-mile rate, so their overall pay will be higher than new drivers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage of heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers in May of 2015 were $19.36 ($40,260 per year). Most drivers earned between $16 and $24 per hour, and the highest earners made more than $30.
Safety and cost-effectiveness are critical in the transportation industry, so many companies offer bonuses to drivers who save the company money by keeping fuel costs low or who pass a roadside DOT inspection with no issues. Some companies offer incentives to drivers who have zero safety-related incidents in during a set period of time (three months or a year).
Company drivers may also receive benefit plans like health insurance, medical, dental, vision, paid vacations, retirement planning, training, sign-on and referral bonuses. Drivers usually accumulate vacation time based on miles driven. To be eligible for the full scope of benefits, you might have to work for the company for three months to a year.
Some companies offer holiday pay, an instant bonus to drivers who agree to work on major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Your company might pay a different rate for time when you aren’t driving, but are still working, like during pickup, drop-off, layovers and tarping.
Different companies pay owner-operators different ways. They could offer a percentage of the revenue from the load hauled, or they could pay by the mile. Many companies offer safety or signing bonuses to owner-operators. In general, owner-operators are paid more per mile than company drivers, but the higher pay comes with a tradeoff.
Owner-operators usually have to pay for their own fuel, but they can also get a fuel surcharge to cover that cost. When you own your own vehicle, you might have to rent the trailer from the company. You will have to pay for all the maintenance of your truck. Some companies require that a portion of your pay be deposited into a maintenance account that you can use to cover repairs that the company has to make. Your truck will have to meet all the company’s standards for appearance, specs and safety.
Owner-operators are not usually eligible for the same benefits full-time employees get, so you will have to arrange for your own health, dental, and vision insurance. If you want to take vacations, you will have to budget your money to afford to take time off. Since owner-operators are usually 1099 contractors, not W-2 employees, you will have to handle all of your income tax withholding on your own. You might have to set aside as much as 30 percent of every paycheck to keep up with taxes.
In addition to the lack of benefits, owner-operators may face longer delays getting paid than company drivers do. Before signing on as an owner-operator, make sure you understand how and when you are going to get paid and what other costs you will incur as a driver. Ask around and make sure the company you are going to work for treats its contractors well and pays on time. It’s no fun waiting for 25 percent of revenue from a load you delivered 45 days ago.