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Is $69,000 a year enough for driving a truck?

Legislation mandating overtime pay faces bumpy road

OOIDA contends detention time could be reduced with mandated overtime pay. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Recent data from the American Trucking Associations found that the average truckload driver made over $69,000 including salary and bonuses in 2021 — an 18% increase from 2019.

At the same time, however, driver compensation — that is, a lack of it — ranked as the No. 1 issue among company drivers and third among all drivers, according to the latest annual survey released in October by the American Transportation Research Institute, which works closely with ATA.

Drivers also ranked detention/delay at customer facilities among their top concerns. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimated in 2018 that time lost waiting to pick up and drop off freight costs commercial truck drivers over $1 billion in annual pay.

Many of those drivers believe that the best way to address both issues is for the government to step in and require that trucking companies pay their drivers overtime.

RankCompany DriversOwner-Operators/Independent Contractors
1Driver compensationFuel prices
2Truck parkingTruck parking
3Detention/delay at customer facilitiesDriver compensation
Priority issues ranked by drivers. Source: ATRI’s “Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry” survey Oct. 2022

“The big guys get away with cheap labor because they don’t want to pay overtime. The big box shippers get away with detaining drivers because nobody charges them. The big carriers don’t charge the shippers because they don’t want to lose the freight,” Lewie Pugh, executive vice president for the Owner-Operator Independent Trucking Association, told FreightWaves.

“We spent years trying to figure out how to get people’s attention on this, and with trucking being so diverse — what you haul might take 15 minutes, what I haul might take four hours — we decided the simplest thing is to remove an exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) so that truckers could get paid overtime. Right now, they’re working 70 hours a week or more.”

Overtime pay legislation pending

OOIDA is a principal backer of the Guaranteeing Overtime for Truckers Act, legislation introduced in the House in April and in the Senate in September that would repeal the motor carrier exemption in the FLSA that excludes company drivers from overtime protections. Pugh estimates that roughly 10-15% of OOIDA’s membership consists of company drivers.

“If this legislation were to pass, the big carriers would be able to pressure shippers and receivers to load their drivers who are on the clock sitting at the loading dock,” Pugh said. “And raising driver pay will raise the rates, which will have a downstream economic effect whereby the smaller owner-operators will be able to raise their rates as well.”

A third-party logistics executive also sees benefits to providing overtime to truckers. “While this wouldn’t help us directly, we care about the drivers we use and whatever affects them positively would affect us,” Dimitre Kirilov, president of consumer services at Montway Auto Transport, a Chicago-based 3PL, told FreightWaves. “Transportation touches everything — we all pay the bill at the end of the day.”

OOIDA and other backers of the legislation seem to have firm support from the Biden administration. Repealing the trucking industry’s FLSA exemption was highlighted in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s supply chain vulnerability report released in February.

DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg himself said that driver recruitment should not become a “leaky bucket” if new drivers end up leaving due to a pay gap with other industries. “Rather, we make sure that the working conditions and the compensation reflect the fact that those jobs are absolutely essential,” he said.

And the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently contracted a study with the Transportation Research Board, as required by the infrastructure law passed last year, on how various methods of driver pay — including getting paid by the hour — affects safety and driver retention.

Opposition to overtime pay is fierce

But getting the legislation passed will be an uphill battle. ATA is actively lobbying against the bills, arguing, among other things, that mandating overtime would require the industry to revamp compensation models that have been in place for decades but “likely resulting in no net change in the total compensation to truck drivers,” according to the group.

Instead, the threat of wage and hour litigation “will inevitably force employers to manage driver workloads with a focus on limiting liability and economic downside rather than on safety, efficiency, and levels of service for freight customers,” ATA contends. “Such a change would limit trucking capacity nationwide, drive up freight costs, slow the movement of goods, and threaten highway safety.”

Jim Mullen, who served as acting administrator at FMCSA during the Trump administration, acknowledged that driver pay remains an issue but that getting rid of the FLSA is not the way to go.

“There are some segments of the industry where drivers are being taken advantage of, and that needs to be corrected,” Mullen, now head of his own consulting firm, Mullen Consulting LLC, told FreightWaves. It’s been a problem for some time, and you would hope that the marketplace would eventually correct that.

“But as far as eliminating the exemption under the FLSA for interstate trucking, it’s a good concept in theory. In practice, it would create a rather large shift for both drivers and carriers in how they look at the labor force.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.


  1. Kevin Pettes

    P.S. Trucking Today Is Mobile Warehousing Four Days To Execute Coast To Coast? Team= 50 Hrs + Amarillo Fueling + Phoenix Airport Drop From Personal Experience
    Expedite Is Not In The Modern Equation

  2. Kevin Pettes

    KISS=Detention Time Needs To Be Enforced By The Fed’s Who Are Afraid To Jurisdictate ELD’s Mandation On The Elephant In The Room. However OSHA Has No Problem There. Maybe Shipping & Receiving Practices Would Dove-Tail To A Hazzard Violation Of Denying Right To Work Laws. Ops To Department Of Labor Hey MahTee You Want Some o’ Dis?

  3. Andy M

    The article mixes up two issues:
    1) Should the average TD make more than $69k?
    2) Is overtime the best way to increase that average?

    In industries that pay OT, employers work to avoid paying OT at all costs.
    If that happened in trucking, the average annual compensation would prob DECREASE, since companies would schedule them to work 30-35 hrs/wk.

  4. Michael

    How can $69k be reasonable if everything across the board is up 9-15%. So you are still making just above liveable wages but it looks like your making good money because your driving a nice truck. This is all BS. Build relationships and work for yourself, you control your own commerce that’s freedom not no commie Union.

  5. Gamal Noble

    Drivers need to form a national union and go on strike. Trucking is one of the most corrupt industries in the country. If you divide the average yearly income by the real amount of hours worked, it’s not worth it. These companies and organizations are exploiting people that come from poverty.

  6. Richard Davis

    ATA is actively lobbying against the bills, arguing, among other things, that mandating overtime would require the industry to revamp compensation models that have been in place for decades but “likely resulting in no net change in the total compensation to truck drivers.”

    So the ATA’s answer to truck drivers getting cheated out of their time and money for years is to continue that process, so it won’t mess things up for the big companies and cause them to have to change their ways. You know, like Walmart’s, grocery warehouses, and any other place that takes them 2-4 or 8-10 hours to do their job of loading or unloading a trailer. These are some of the same people that want to put the name tag of ” professionals ” on truck drivers because they have a CDL.

    Is $69,000 a year enough to drive a truck for a so-called professional? Don’t forget to take into consideration that when you get a CDL to become a truck-driving professional, you lose some of your rights as a U.S. citizen. The 1st. right you lose, is the right to a fair wage and being paid for the work you perform. That is the #1 right the ATA thinks you shouldn’t have, for the good of everyone else. Don’t forget trucking and drivers are heavily regulated. Drivers are told when they can work and for how long when to sleep, and pretty much when to eat if they get a chance to eat. You could kinda say driving a truck is slave labor in a way. Drivers really don’t have much control over their time, it is dictated by the people and circumstances around them. And don’t forget, because you have a CDL and are considered to be a professional, you are supposed to be a mind reader, know what everyone on the road around you is thinking and what their next move may be.

  7. Frank M Ringer jr

    No 69,000 is not enough. The base pay should start at 100,000 for a company driver. Truck drivers are under payed and work a lot of hours they don’t get paid for. The government keeps saying there is a driver shortage. There is not a driver shortage. There is a pay shortage for drivers. Why drive OTR when you can work at home and make the same money. The government keeps putting restrictions on drivers and companies making it harder to make a living on the road.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.