What’s Causing the Truck Driver Salary Increase? [And How It Benefits You]

What's Causing the Truck Driver Salary IncreaseIt's been tough balancing the increased shipping costs lately. Yet, it seems like you keep reading about another trucking company increasing pay for their drivers.

That might leave you thinking, “Well no wonder my shipping costs are still going up.” Most carriers aren’t passing 100 percent of the cost on to you, but it’s fair to assume some of the cost burdens are being put on you.

Founded by a driver in 1955, we know drivers are the backbone of our industry. After all, they’re the reason all of us in this industry have jobs — and the reason everyone has food, clothing and other essential items.

In this article, we’ll explain why truck driver salaries continue to increase, why it benefits you and what you can do to help.

Why is Truck Driver Pay Increasing so Rapidly?

Let’s address the elephant in the room right away. Like any career, truck driver pay goes up pretty much every year. What we’re addressing in this blog, however, is why it seems like most carriers are increasing pay right now — and increasing it more than usual.

Supply and Demand

Supply and demand are some of the core principles of economic activity — and the transportation industry is no exception to that rule.

In the case of trucking, supply is the amount of equipment (like trucks and trailers) available to transport goods. But supply also includes drivers.Truck-Driver-Standing-in-front-of-Truck

Beyond the typical ebbs and flows of supply and demand in trucking — magnified even more by the global pandemic — the lack of truck drivers is piling on to the problem.

Truck Driver Shortage

If you’ve spent any amount of time in the transportation industry, you’ve heard the term “truck driver shortage” tossed around. While it’s been considered a myth by many for years, 2020 brought the issue to the forefront.

From early retirements to fewer younger drivers entering the field, among other reasons, the number of professional truck drivers is shrinking fast. 

The pandemic also played a part in 2020. Many driving schools were forced to close or stay open with limited capacity.

Truck-Driving-SimulatorThat limited the driver supply for companies that hire directly out of school. It also caused a trickle-down effect for companies that require previous driving experience.

The trucking industry is also now competing with the trade industries, like electricians, welders, plumbers and more. These industries have similar pay scales to trucking, but usually allow more time to be home.

For more details, read our blog about “How the Truck Driver Shortage Is Impacting Shipping Capacity.”

What’s Being Done to Address the Truck Driver Shortage

During “normal” times, hiring qualified truck drivers was still competitive between trucking companies. That has only escalated in the past year.

We spend a lot of time talking to our drivers about what’s important to them when looking for, or staying with, a trucking company — or in this case, sticking with the trucking industry. Among other things, the most important factors are home time, quality of equipment, career growth opportunities and pay. 

Home Time

When it comes to over-the-road (OTR) truckers — or truckers that go beyond local or regional routes — it’s virtually impossible to compete with the trade industries on home time. Many trucking companies have worked to increase home time, but that still means several weeks out on the road at a time.


Quality of Equipment

Most people like shiny, new things. Or, at the very least, they want reliable things that work the way they’re supposed to. The top trucking companies try and do both of those things to attract and retain drivers.

To ensure the latest technology, efficiency and comfort for drivers, the best trucking companies have a regular equipment upgrade process. Those trucking companies also have routine maintenance done to prevent drivers from dealing with breakdowns on the road.

Career Growth

Top trucking companies also offer career growth opportunities. Drivers can earn their way up to hauling bigger and heavier freight — which also pays more. While career growth is important to many drivers, pay is generally the one factor that means the most.

Truck Driver Pay

While the previous two categories are important to many drivers, pay almost always plays the biggest role in where a truck driver decides to take their career.

And with the market being uber-competitive right now, the answer for many companies is simple — increase pay for drivers. However, many of the top trucking companies are going above and beyond a flat truck driver salary increase. Those trucking companies are finding innovative ways to “share the wealth,” so to speak.

Without going into too much detail, freight rates fluctuate, so, for example, one week a trucking company could charge $1,000 for a particular load. The next week, that company may charge $1,500 for that same load. 

Instead of paying the truck driver the same rate for both of those loads, innovative trucking companies offer drivers a percentage of the rate if it benefits the driver. In those cases, the driver will make more if the company makes more.

Why Does Increasing Truck Driver Salary Benefit Me As a Shipper?

You may be thinking, “What’s in it for me? This only means I have to pay more to ship my freight.”

The blunt answer is increasing driver pay means you’ll have trucks to pull your freight — but there’s more to it than that. For many of us, we don’t want just anyone haphazardly loading, unloading and hauling our inventories. We want a qualified driver that does the job the right way.Truck-Driver-Securing-Front-End-Loader

Studies show when employees feel like they’re paid fairly, they do their jobs better. Truck drivers are no exception. If a truck driver is getting paid less than their colleagues — or someone in a similar industry (like the trade industry) — they won’t be happy about it. 

That means they won’t be providing you the level of service you expect — and frankly deserve. Instead, they’ll be thinking about where they could be making more money, be home more or whatever it may be. Paying drivers a fair salary means you can expect consistent capacity with better service.

How You, As a Shipper, Can Help

Remember, while pay is a major factor in a driver’s decision to do what they do, there are other factors they care about.

Treat Drivers the Way You Want to Be Treated

One of the key factors we didn’t mention earlier is being treated with respect. For decades, drivers have been treated as a necessary part of the industry, but mostly as an afterthought. For those outside the industry, truck drivers were the big, inconvenient vehicle that slows down their commute on the highway.Truck-Driver-Talking-to-Employees

Thankfully, 2020 finally helped many people realize how important a truck driver really is. Without them, we don’t have the phone or computer you’re reading this on. We don’t have the beverage sitting next to you right now or the dinner you’ll be having later. All these drivers want is a little respect.

So when a driver is at your location, please consider the following:

  • Let them use your facilities.
  • If they ask for help with something, help them.
  • Be ready for them if they arrive at the scheduled time so they don’t have to wait
  • Make sure your load instructions are easy to understand (including where to park, where to check-in, etc.).

Truck drivers have a limited number of hours in a day they can legally work, so the more delays they have at your facility, the more rushed — and, therefore, stressed — they’ll feel.

Find Synergy in Your Transportation Network

If it hasn’t been clear to this point, the truck driver pay increase is impacting every company in the transportation industry. Driver pay needs to remain strong for everyone, which will impact your shipping costs.

One way you can keep costs as low as possible is by finding a transportation partner that matches your network. Are their trucks already close to your facilities?

That’s important to ensure drivers don’t have to travel far to get to where you need them to pick up or deliver your freight. Those empty miles can add up fast — especially if truck driver salaries continue to increase.

Is This the “New Normal”?

The short answer is we don’t know for certain. A lot has changed in the past year or so, some of which we’re already seeing go back to the way we knew it, while some hasn’t — and may never go back.

Because of the shortage of truck drivers — along with the other factors brought on by the pandemic — trucking companies are doing everything they can to hire and retain qualified drivers.

They’re improving home time, creating career growth opportunities and increasing pay. And you can do your part by ensuring drivers are treated with respect every step of the way.

If history is any inclination, we know the freight market ebbs and flows. So, at some point, the pendulum will swing back the other way, where rates are lower and demand isn’t as crazy. So while driver pay will almost always increase, it likely won’t be as drastic as we’re seeing right now.

While these high transportation costs shouldn’t be your “new normal,” we hope the newfound respect for drivers is. If we remember how essential these drivers are to our everyday lives — even without a toilet paper shortage — we’ll have much happier, more qualified professionals hauling your freight.

Tags: Specialized Shipping, Oversized Shipping, Heavy Haul Trucking, Dry Van Shipping, Truck Driver Shortage, Spot Rate Pricing

Joe Goering

Written by Joe Goering

With over 30 years in transportation, Joe has developed an appreciation for the industry and how vital safe, high-quality drivers are to a company’s success. As the vice president of driver recruiting, Joe leads a team of driver consultants while finding creative ways to attract drivers to ATS. He began his career earning a criminal justice degree while serving in the U.S. Army and joined ATS after being honorably discharged in 1990. During his time at ATS, he’s served in various roles, including general manager of ATS International.

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