Trucking Industry Debates Whether To Alter Driver Pay Model

July 10, 2017 by Clarissa Hawes

As technology allows shipping companies to digitally peer into the cab of a big rig, some in the industry are starting to ask if it is time to change the way truckers are paid.

Most truckers get paid by the load. Essentially it is a fee per mile. If they get stuck in traffic or weather and it takes an extra day, no matter, the driver gets the agreed upon price. If a trucker has to wait three hours at a loading dock to pick up or deliver goods, it’s the same. There’s no extra compensation unless the carrier pays an activity fee for a trucker’s time spent behind the wheel not driving.

Major carriers such as J.B. Hunt, Swift Transportation and Schneider generally pay drivers per mile. Other companies, including UPS and FedEx, have switched to hourly pay, which analysts say typically provides truckers with higher incomes and covers delays outside of their control.

Michael Belzer

Michael Belzer

“Driver pay continues to be a serious problem, but it’s definitely a fixable issue,” Michael Belzer, associate professor of economics at Wayne State University in Detroit, told “It’s not that complicated – just pay people for all of their time and the problem is solved.”

He said the system of compensating only by mileage is antiquated because some carriers just pay the drivers when the wheels are moving, not for their time when they are filling out paperwork, fueling their trucks or waiting to be loaded or unloaded.

“The economics of it is that carriers and shippers will consume an infinite amount of free labor as long as they can get away with it,” Belzer said.

Overall, compensation levels continue to be stagnant among many of the mega-carriers, according to Belzer, who has studied driver compensation and safety for more than 30 years.

Some truckers are making the same amount of pay per mile or in some cases less than they did before deregulation in the early 1980s, he said.

Paying by the mile is a legacy from when it was difficult to observe drivers, said Steve Viscelli, a University of Pennsylvania sociologist and author of the book The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream.

Steve Viscella Headshot

Steve Viscelli

But that’s changing with GPS tracking tools, sophisticated telematics and soon-to-be federally mandated electronic logging devices, which track every movement of a big rig and the time a trucker is at the wheel to ensure compliance with driving time regulations. These electronic systems can pinpoint a driver’s exact location and how fast they are driving and other data, which is sent back to a carrier’s home office to provide information about the driver and the progress of the load.

“Now these companies, or the majority of them, can monitor directly by satellite technology so they know where their driver is, they know if they are rolling or not,” Viscelli said.

Major pay reform is needed for professional drivers in the trucking industry, said Allen Smith, who has been in the trucking industry for more than 30 years and maintains a website called Ask the Trucker.

“Their wages have not increased since the 1980s, while the cost of living has at least doubled,” Smith, of Dunnellon, Fla., told

While he isn’t sure whether hourly pay would solve the industry’s problem, he said drivers “should be paid fairly and for all time” they work.

Allen Smith

Allen Smith

When drivers do not make enough money, the final outcome can be stressful and unsafe, Smith said.

“The combination of fighting a 14-hour clock, along with hours of unpaid waiting time at shippers and receivers, and stagnant cents-per-mile wages from the 1980s, it is a perfect storm for unsafe highways as drivers race the clock to make up for lost hours and low wage,” he said.

Heavy-duty trucks were involved in 4,050 fatal crashes in 2015, according to the latest data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

However, the way motor carriers pay drivers is changing, according to the American Trucking Associations.

“When ATA last surveyed driver compensation trends in 2014, we found that 77 percent of carriers had more than one type of base pay model — so it is difficult to speculate as to what impact changing the model [to hourly] would have on driver recruitment and retention,” said Sean McNally, spokesman for the trade association.

That survey found that the most frequent approach when using a model of two or more types of base pay utilized both hourly and per mile, “which indicates a significant number of carriers are already doing this,” he told

Celadon Group offers its drivers — both those employed directly by the company and the owner-operators it contracts with — “a choice in pay,” said Joe Weigel, spokesman for the Indianapolis, Ind.-based motor carrier.

The company has more than 3,000 trucks and approximately 8,700 trailers.

Celadon company drivers can choose from one of three pay packages, including a standard pay package that is mileage-based, a vacation pay package that accrues time off more quickly than the standard pay package, or a mileage-band package that offers a premium mileage bonus for shorter routes.

Weigel said Celadon owner operators, or independent-contractors, are typically offered one of three packages, which include a standard pay package at 94 cents per mile, a percentage pay offering between 67 to 75 percent of gross revenue, or a mileage-band package that offers a premium mileage bonus for shorter routes.

“The only drivers that are paid hourly are our local drivers that are typically driving a dedicated route, although we do pay drivers an hourly detention fee if they are waiting on a load more than a given amount of time,” Weigel told “Again, providing the driver a choice is a model we like to espouse.”

Walmart drivers are among the highest paid in the industry, according to Ryan Currell, a spokesman for Walmart. He said besides mileage pay, drivers are paid activity pay for extra duties they perform while on the job. contacted Swift Transportation, Schneider National, J.B. Hunt, C.R. England and Werner Enterprises Inc. to ask about pay practices.  All declined to comment for this story.

The best form of compensation is one that pays drivers for all of the time they spend doing their jobs, not just for the time when the wheels are moving, said Sandy Long, of Marceline, Mo., a recently retired truck driver who drove for more than 40 years.

“To get the pay up to where it needs to be, companies are going to have to pay drivers for the actual miles they drive, not just ZIP code to ZIP code, pay them for all pre-trips and post-trip inspections, unloading and loading times, layover pay and detention time,” Long told

Drivers should be paid for the time spent tarping their loads, chaining up wheels in snowstorms and for supervising the unloading and loading of freight on their trucks, she said.

Pay is likely to become a crucial issue for the industry as freight demand rebounds and carriers face trouble recruiting and retaining drivers.

There are about 3.6 million trucks in the heaviest Class 8 weight segment, according to the ATA. The organization estimates that the trucking industry will need to hire more than 96,000 new drivers annually for the next 10 years to keep up with consumer spending. Trucks hauled nearly 10.5 billion tons of freight in 2015, accounting for 70.1 percent of domestic freight tonnage, according to the trade association.

Some call the idea that there is a shortage of drivers a myth.

“If there was [a driver shortage], driver wages would not be an issue,” Smith said. “The low wages and other things keep the cycle of drivers coming in and out of the industry and the freight keeps being moved as cheap as possible.”

A true shortage would cause wages to rise to fill the gap, he said.

But moving the trucking industry to an hourly pay system would raise the cost of moving raw materials to factories, food to grocery stories, and imported goods and products to retailers. Ultimately consumers would likely bear the burden.

Although Smith isn’t sure if hourly pay or simply bumping up the mileage pay to a “living wage” is the answer, he said shippers only care about how cheaply their freight is being moved, not whether the drivers are being paid fairly.

“There is a simple solution,” he said.  “Take care of the drivers and pay them for all the time they work.”

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27 Responses

  1. Thomas long

    Different rules and regulations apply for otr, regional, local, and under 100 air nautical miles. Pay rules and regulations should be in line with this! As well doubles/triples , hazmat, and tankers. Flatbed and some materials on flatbed require special attention i.e. Extra time and labor. A 1 size fits all is not reasonable in pay compensation! 1 trouble spot example – to avoid extra mt miles , a company may ask mileage payed driver to pick up a 200 mile load. 3 hrs loading 4 hrs driving 3 hrs unloading = 10 hrs . If paid .50 per mile , earned 100.00 dollars for 10 hrs work. 10.00 per hr . If takes longer do to traffic or shipper receiver issues pay per hr goes down ! However pay for companies stays the same . Only driver takes the hits!! Also in example- driver log required only pre and post , And drive time! Driver doesn’t load or unload so no on duty logging! However driver is on site and on the job! Pay for mandatory unproductive driver time??? Build cost into every load ??

    • Keep truckin

      Its pointless most truck drivers have turned a blind eye buried there head in the sand and allowed them selves to be taken advantage of hey the ata is organized bet ya cant get a hundred truckers to agree on anything let alone organize and fight for what is rightfully theres shame

      • steven browning

        Exactly, the ATA is not a friend of drivers at all………It looks out for the companies, who in turn, exploit the drivers………..Who in this country works 14 hours a day, day in and day out……….certainly not the ATA people sitting in an office all day………give me a break………

    • Charles Quail

      Liberty Insurance said it best: the best safety policy is to hire good drivers, the rest will take care of itself. Thirty years ago, Gateway Foods, the largest grocery warehouse in Wis paid mileage, hourly and mileage. They rarely lost drivers.
      To state that the “consumers” would BEAR the cost makes it seem other than just fair pay. But this slant on driver pay makes it sound like we are bums when we expect to earn a decent living. I have never read that remark applied to any other industrial worker. And what’s with this fixation on tracking us? Are that many of us thieves? I don’t think so. I think it is the current fad of computerizing and tracking everything; and therefore everything is better. Drivers don’t tarry while delivering, because we only get paid when we do deliver, so this tracking mania is just that.

  2. Mike

    Pay them !!!!! Our whole way of life depends on trucking.
    These big carriers have government subsidised trucking schools so they could care less about driver retention. They are making money off drivers quitting and the ones they lie to and recruit. That needs to be stopped. All the BS needs to be stopped!!!

    • Mike

      The people ata cant spell it/brokers and agents detention time low per mile pay high fuel act your NOT HELPING

  3. Allen Smith

    There’s a very serious situation that’s happening right under our noses, and while most of us are concerned about issues like the ELD mandate, HOS, speed limiters, and a barrage of other vital issues, the ATA and other industry groups have lobbied hard to lawmakers to include an anti trucker wage amendments, such as the Fischer and Denham Amendments, in the FAA bill. That’s the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill, and yes, the aviation bill has trucking amendments, and yes they will hurt trucker wages.

    Drivers have not been aware of the repercussions that could take place if the Denham and Fischer amendments are allowed to remain in the FAA Reauthorization bill. The ATA has been lobbying for this for a LONG time. Do you think they’re lobbying for the drivers?
    If drivers don’t take it seriously, it will be a done deal, and the hope for wage reform is over and being paid for all working time is over.

    We continue to do everything we can to spread the awareness. Drivers: Make the Call to your Senators and Reps. The voting is going to take place in the next few weeks or even days!

    Here’s a sample of what you can say when you call.

    “As a trucker, I’m against the Denham amendment and the Fischer amendments to the FAA bill which will nullify state laws that require trucking companies to pay for rest breaks, detention time, and all time working. These amendments work against the interests of trucker rights to be paid for all time worked and are also anti state’s rights and anti safety.”

  4. Miguel

    What needs to be done is a strike for a day. This would have to be done at all trucking company’s. This would show just how important the trucker really is to the economy.

  5. Darnell

    The problem that drivers deal with who get paid by the mile is not enough and some companies have such great insurance until they can’t leave and the insurance in my case is for the wife and kids because a good trucker is very rarely sick.

    • Joshua weiser

      Unfortunately that will never happen due to mega carriers like jb swift cr England celadon Jr schugel because none of them care about their drivers. They only care about their bottom dollar and small companies are barely able to keep their doors open because they have to bust their busts due to mega carriers making all of these regulations

  6. GABBY

    Bing a Driver since 1983 –
    I guess Iv seen a few this, Not much but some, and wages in the trucking industry, So sad to see how a whole industry can be so heavily Regulated with all eyes on the Driver, Truckers are some of the lowest Payed in what’s called a Continuously moving Industry, My opinion on
    Hourly wages for Truck Drivers are fine for local drivers, But deffently not for long haul drivers, unless, unless ! Our Govermeer goes through with the (EL) Electronic Log mandate this would be the time for long haul driver to go Hourly with a minimum of 25.00 hour and up,
    Electronic logs are going to be a fine tool for the big and small companys,
    But drivers going to see issues as far as pay, Companies will say (EL) work great as long as you manage your time, well

    Mr Company thats easier
    sayed then done when your sitting at the Hub or home office, It all changes for the driver when you start the clock on your (EL) just before your pre – trip inspection, Then you hear … Tic Tic Tic yes that’s your (EL) clock running and it don’t stop, Sure you have 14 hours to mamage but, 14- hrs goes by real quick when you run into Bad weather, Major Traffic Accident, Freeway Closer, Road Construction One Lane at 55 to 45 miles an hour, thats not including Mechanical Problems or Blowouts on your tractor or trailer, Tic Tic Tic …This can take a toll on your
    Time Manegment when yo have Electric Log, Once you start your time there’s no stopping it, So good luck managing your time.

    • Joshua weiser

      Gabby very good point but let’s also not forget to mention that just because you have that 14 he clock you can only still drive 11 plus a mandatory 30 min. break 8 hours after you switch to on duty. And if your stuck sitting in traffic for hours on end your still on drive time because you are stuck sitting behind that steering wheel

    • Mike

      You said 25.00 a hr but at $2.00 × 70 that’s 140 a hr that will never happen WERE F@CKED

      • Aubrey Amann

        The $25 per hour is computed from the driver rate per hour and is only meant to cover non-driving hours of loading etc. It would put the shippers and receivers on notice to tighten up their methods. In other words have a split pay system; pay for driving by the mile and pay for non-driving by the hour.

  7. GABBY

    I wounder if any of you Driver ever ran into this practice ?
    I have noticed quite a few Trucking Companies are doung in California…
    I think it’s a going to be if it’s not already a big problem in the Trucking Industry.
    With a huge impact on drivers pay, There’s a practice that iv noticed happening .
    Trucking Companys paying Drivers as Independent Contractors with a – 1099 status
    They hire driver’s to drive there trucks in- witch the trucking company pays all expenses fuel, Oil change , tire repair all maintenance repairs including Truck note, Driver pays no experiences at all.
    Loads are Dispached by Trucking Companys Driver has no say in what loads he gets.
    But he is told he’s an
    Independent Contractor so he is Payed like a Independent Contractor no taxes deducted no withholding “none what so ever”, When he is hired he is ask to complete an Employment Applaction giving his S/S Number and DL- Number.
    Just like a company driver would do after he gets hired.
    Where this all goes to pieces is at the end of the year when tax time comes around and this so called Independent Driver has no to eat all taxes for that with no Deductible not one.
    But the Trucking Company that hired him has all the Recipe it needs to keep going. Tell me is this Legal for Trucking Companies to do ?

  8. John

    I find it ironic ic Swift wouldn’t give is their executive who went to testify to congress with the need for ELD ‘s and SPEED LIMITERS. The real Tucker’s were not’s all political and lobbyists.

  9. James

    Eliminate the brokers and deal direct shippers and carriers. And everyone need to stay away from total quality logisistics they are the biggest crooks in trucking brokerage

  10. Matthew

    the sun is setting on the professional driving career. autonomous trucks are here. drivers will be getting cut out over the next 10 year. so start planning to go to college for a new career. or face poverty. and yes that is why wages are going down for drivers. that don’t have to care anymore. no one is listening. and no one is helping.

  11. T Wade

    The majority of drivers have been brainwashed by the cheap paying companies and small fleet owners that drivers need more hours to work not more per mile. This way the companies can keep on paying cheap wages and get more out of their drivers and more profits.

    Drivers are so gullible that they full for the line that we can pay you cheap wages or rates, give you a fast truck, and allow you to cheat on your logs and you will make more money.

    Drivers have been repeating the same thing for years and still expect a different outcome.

  12. Marc Colwell

    The first thing that needs to be done when electronic logging goes into effect is to give us a flat 14 hour day. That way if we loose 6 hours of driving during a day or two we have the rest of our week to make it up. Realistically that would leave at most a 13 hour driving on any day after you take off pretrip fueling and 30 min break

  13. stephen

    We all need to stop working by dec . 17 of 2017 and not go back to work until we get $19.00us per hour on duty and over time after 10 hours per day or 13 days away from home base in a row. In Toronto Canada a teacher or fireman made the same as a truck driver working 4 days or 50 hour per week. the fireman today makes twice as much per hour as a truck driver today. He works 3 days on 3 days off paid for 11.25 hours out of 12 hours per shift at $46 cd per hour or $37.00us per hour plus over time or time off after 82 hours in 2 weeks. E-logs will only work in Canada if O.T.R drivers make $26.00 per hour and local drivers make $23.00 when we will have a $15.00 min wage. Last year I did construction and was paid $26.50 per hour plus overtime after 50 hours per week. All hours paid plus full medical. they told if I work for 3 years for them would get 10% discount on new 2 or 3 bedroom apartment with underground parking spot up worth up to $50,000 off. I am going back in march to them

  14. Sam

    Walmart is full of crap, their drivers are not the highest paid. They cut pay for new drivers, a Walmart driver is extremely lucky to get a trip over 100 miles. You add a hour or so per trip of sitting in traffic for free it’s not worth it. Walmart has drivers leaving faster than they can con a new one about the job. Use to be a great driver friendly company but no more, the college grads have taken over and will run it in the ground. Enjoyed my years there before they turned it into “one step above Swift” .

  15. Dan

    If they want to pay us by the mile, fine, but post ELD mandate they get to pay for it. I make .52 per mile and that is low imo. If I were to go for another OTR job right now, I would be looking for at least .56. Drivers are in control right now. You can’t get anyone to do this thankless job. You see that in the lack of new drivers. You think these millienals want to drive OTR, they don’t. The industry is desperately trying to ramp up these autonomous trucks thinking that it will save the impending and continuous increases in cpm that will keep drivers in, but it’s not going to work in a way that is going to significantly lower costs. That’s one reason Warren Buffet purchased Pilot /Flying J. OTR and human drivers are here to stay, and traditionally the only way to keep employees is to raise their pay. I made 75k last year. That was on .43 cpm. Post ELD, my company immediately raised it to .52. I will make over $85k this year. OTR pay is on its way to over 100k a year. That’s the only way to get and keep drivers. Mark my words, AUTONOMOUS TRUCKS WILL FAIL. Drivers, your in control. The industry doesn’t want to you know this. It’s all about cpm. If your an experienced driver and not making above .50, your being taken advantaged of, and can easily get this through a job change.

  16. Devarrio Rochelle

    Hey, I’m a truck driver and I love what I do. I feel like, if we were taking cared of a little better, as for as paying us good making sure I safety is well kept because you have a lot of drivers out here loses there life over getting Robbed or just a fatal accident, not only if you were married leaving your family to go make little money. All I’m saying is let us eeeeeeaaaaaattttt!!!!! Make us stay out here by putting them$$$$$$ in our pocket, so we can go home show our family and friends a check so faaaattt! They going want to come out here now you got more people want to join cause you making good money…

  17. Julia Adam

    Yeah, its really a serious Issue. Because majority of the businesses are depends of this field, like goods delivery, etc. If a trucker work in every circumstances what ever the condition is , they just have to drive only. So its our responsibility that they get, what they deserve. best wishes for them. and I appreciate your work as well.


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