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ATA survey: Truckload drivers in ’21 earned 18% more than 2 years earlier

Report shows pay also increased 11% just last year — and looks like it’s still rising

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Every data point was higher in the first survey of driver pay conducted by the research arm of the American Trucking Associations since before the pandemic.

The Drive Compensation Study released Wednesday covers data for 2021, and its reference points are comparisons to 2019. 

In a media call, ATA chief economist Bob Costello said trucking is “an industry that is focused on driver compensation and benchmarking against it.” That is the goal of the report and “it is a huge undertaking,” he said. 

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Truckload drivers earned a median compensation of $69,687 in 2021. That figure includes bonuses but not benefits. That figure is 18% more than the average compensation from 2019. 
  • More than 90% of respondents in the truckload sector to the ATA survey increased pay last year, with the average increase being 10.9%. 
  • Referral bonuses, a key recruiting tool, averaged $1,150, a gain of $150 over the bonus in the 2019 survey. The percentage of carriers who offered a referral bonus was 96%. Sign-on bonuses were only offered by 54% of truckload carriers in the survey, but the increase in the bonus was $750. (A specific figure on the size of that bonus was not disclosed, but a graphic puts it in the range of about $1,750-$1,800.)

Costello said the ATA study also provides information on benefits, unlike several other compensation studies. The scope of the benefits provided by truckload carriers shows “this is a big part that comes out of this report,” Costello said. “Drivers get good benefits.”

There are no signs of a slowdown in pay increases either, Costello said. Although rates are less than a year ago, he said about 60% of respondents said they planned on increasing pay in 2022.

The ATA study is notable also because it surveys private fleets and breaks out that data separately. The median pay for employee drivers who worked for a private fleet was $85,000 in 2019, which the ATA said was equivalent to 2019 despite the gains made by over-the-road truckers in overall truckload carriers. 

Costello said private fleet drivers receive “good benefits, retirement benefits, paid time off and holidays. So if I’m talking to a driver, that is one of the things we like to highlight.”

“One of the great things about this occupation is that it is a path to the middle class,” Costello added. “There isn’t a lot of that left anymore.”

Higher driver pay helped contribute to another development that has been discussed and which Costello said he heard throughout the survey: Drivers are making their target salary with fewer hours, given the increase in rate per mile and other pay.

“We asked, do you have drivers who when you increase pay, they elect to drive less and make the same amount, and the answer was a resounding yes,” Costello said. “Everyone wants a pay raise, but a lot of those folks want to be home more often.” 

Costello said there was nothing in the data that the ATA could discern as being significantly impacted by the loss of drivers due to the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse. He said the existence of the clearinghouse, which went into effect at the start of 2021, “added another layer of tightness of the market, which probably helped push up pay.” But there was nothing that could be specifically pointed to as a result of the clearinghouse, he added.

While Costello used the media briefing to discuss the truckload data, the report itself also had information on less-than-truckload driver pay. LTL carriers had median pay of $73,000 in 2021, according to the survey. But that represents LTL drivers who hauled freight over the road. Local LTL drivers earned a median pay of $55,000.

Every LTL carrier who responded to the ATA survey increased pay in 2021 by an average of 2.6%. 

Final-mile drivers also were surveyed. Their average compensation was $65,000, Costello said. 

More articles by John Kingston

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Better pay alone doesn’t retain drivers, Heartland finds

Average annual driver salaries have cracked 70k: ATBS’ Amen


  1. Marcel Mulla

    This the most lame pice of trash ever published. I think you should look for new job because you don’t have a clue what you talking about. I have to say this my 37 years in business and we’re not doing any better than any year ever it’s worst than ever even than when Obama was in WH . We loosing drivers every day because the money isn’t there. You can tell a person to leave their family for a week for lousy bucks. Freight is even cheaper than 2020 and I haul my own freight other wise I be out of business. I lost 1/2 off the owner operators, they quit not just hauling for me they quit the industry for good. Think about it Brazilan drivers getting paid more in their country, I would never believed that till I was down there for vacation. We are looking for big resection in this country and you talking about middle class truckers . I am sorry but I’m not even agreeing with you about it. New millennials can’t even drive a car never mind trying training them in the rig .

    1. TR Sorvlet

      The ATA, of course, has their Agenda…to accurately say trucking is a mess admits their failure as a trucking association.

      Back in March, the ATA did a story on the high industry turnover. They stated it’s not drivers leaving trucking, but moving to different co.s (true). SIT DOWN TO HEAR THEIR ANALYSIS! They say that this shows how EMPOWERED we are! It’s a bidding war for our services! That we can move like an NFL Free Agent who signs with KC for a few million more per year. YES THAT’S WHAT THEY SAID IN THE ARTICLE!!

      God help us…with associations like them and OOIDA!!

      TR SORVLET Director
      [email protected]

      1. TR Sorvlet

        Drivers, of course, move around because there are so many terrible companies. Then the co.s make money off their turnover by taking inflated tax write-offs for expenses incurred.

    1. TR Sorvlet

      AGREE WITH ALL ABOVE COMMENTS! For one thing, in 2021 freight was Booming, as people stayed home/ ordered from Amazon. Years like ’18 and ’21 aren’t common. What does the average trucker make for his 75-80 hour week? They median income is $69,600, they say.Trainers push up that median…not everyone wants that stress. A private fleet like Walmart pushes it up. Drivers in the survey can exaggerated.

      Inflation has devoured pay increases. A few years ago Trump ‘s tax reduction took the chains off the economy and was good for everyone, but there was a mistake in it. The tax write- off for business expenses was eliminated for company drivers. We lost a big “per diem” deduction! We don’t see how things have improved! The ATA is looking at it through rose colored glasses.!

      TR SORVLET Director
      [email protected]

  2. Mike Dow

    19% increase over the last 2 years. But still no raise in the last 25 years if you adjust for inflation. Also total pay is misleading due to the fact that sign on bonuses and monthly bonuses are often out of reach. The ATA is a joke and only see things in the eyes of the mega carriers. ATA is the devil if you ask me.. Sorry not sorry

  3. Mark

    a path to middle class are you serious? if you’re on the road 5 days a week that is 140 hours in the truck, now some would respond well your not working that whole time. But you are away from home that means you are at work. so do the math $85000 100.000 is nothing for that much time show me how i’m wrong. then the parking situation, terrible food, all there is fast food, it’s unhealthy, so again 99.9 percent of trucking companies are scum bags looking for uninformed, ignorant folks to take advantage of!

    1. Ted

      Amen!!! Maybe you make 11-18% more than last year but everything costs 2-3 times as much so you went backwards. When I was in a line truck 2/3rds of my payroll was spent just surviving on the road.

Comments are closed.

John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.