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

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

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. 

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