There are nearly 3.5 million truck drivers, according to the American Trucking Association (ATA).1 These truck drivers travel billions of miles each year, delivering everything from food and medicine to big-screen televisions to 80% of US communities.

Even so, when Americans push their carts through the aisles at the grocery store or run to the pharmacy, they likely aren't thinking about the truck that delivers the goods available for purchase. Still, even if most Americans don't think about trucking, it's a pillar of the economy.

Truck drivers are in high demand, but driver's seats are hard to fill, and turnover is high.

While truck driving is one of the few remaining career paths that can offer a route to the middle class without a college degree, it's not always lucrative. Especially these days.

According to the US Department of Transportation, the median annual wage for a trucker in 2021 was $43,680. That same year, the industry was short by 80,000 drivers.2 In 2022 the shortage eased to 78,000, but still is expected to double by 2031.3

Expensive Up-Front Training

While the trucking industry estimates that it needs to recruit 1.2 million drivers to take the wheels of retirees, each of those new recruits will need to be trained first, costing as much as $7,000 per driver.

While scholarships4 and some company-paid training programs5 are available, this training typically come with an employment commitment of anywhere from six months to one year. While this commitment might sound like job security, the beginning wages tend to be lower and can require drivers to live away from home, depending on the location of the company with which they train and sign.

Training is also time intensive. Full-time training courses typically run here to six weeks.6 Because not everybody is available to train 40 hours per week and a Class-A CDL typically requires 160 hours, training can be stretched over 3 months.

A Less-Than-Ideal Pay Structure

While the demand for truckers has resulted in more incentives, the way that truckers get paid remains the same.

Truckers are not paid for fueling up, inspecting their truck, or loading and unloading, which can take several hours. Truckers are also exempt from receiving overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

When it comes to making money, forget the clock. All that matters are miles.

As of 2023, the average pay per mile was 52.3 cents. If a trucker hits traffic or treacherous weather and ends up in stand-still traffic, they still only get paid per mile.

Hard and Fast Rules

Since the 1930s, rules about how long drivers can drive have been in place. These rules have been tweaked by the government and fudged by truckers, until now.

Truckers may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. Truckers also may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

While this might sound like an irrefutably safe rule on paper, driving sometimes requires flexibility in practice as it relates to parking for the night or making a final destination. This caveat is particularly true considering that truckers don't have a guaranteed place to park when the clock runs out. A traffic jam could mean that a delivery doesn't get made on time, putting pressure on the driver even if the situation on the road is out of their control.

According to one study by the American Transportation Research Institute, truckers spend 56 minutes each day looking for parking.7 Not only does this time spent reduce wages, but it also slows the supply chain and adds stress to the driver's day.

Time spent looking for a place to park amounts to an estimated 12% annual pay cut.8

Tracking Technology Riding Shotgun

Since December 2017, electronic logging devices (ELDs) that automatically record a driver's driving time and other aspects of the hours-of-service records have been mandated in trucks.

These devices work by monitoring a vehicle's engine to capture data on whether the engine is running, whether the vehicle is moving, miles driven and duration of engine operation (engine hours), according to the FMCSA.9 Information is automatically recorded and cannot be adjusted.

Upon implementation, ELDs were projected to make driving safer, even though truckers received having a tracking device less than enthusiastically.

Since the implementation of the ELD, however, accidents have increased. According to the Supply Chain Management Research Center at the University of Arkansas in a study published in the Journal of Operations Management, the devices increased unsafe driving behaviors by about one-third, specifically for drivers who work for small fleets or are owner-operators.10 Most drivers who worked with large fleets had ELDs as of the late 2010s. Transgressions included changing lanes improperly, speeding and following too closely.

The Inherent Risks of the Road

Compared to the average American worker, a truck driver is 10 times more likely to be killed on the job, according to federal data.11

According to the AAA Foundation, six out of ten of US adults feel less safe driving past large commercial trucks than driving past passenger cars.12 If six out of ten people are hesitant to pass a commercial truck, they likely don't want to drive one.

Learn more about what's next for the Transportation market in the RPS 2023 Transportation Market Outlook.



1"National Truck Driver Appreciation Week 2023," American Trucking Associations, 8 Sept 2023.

2"ATA Chief Economist Pegs Driver Shortage at Historic High," American Trucking Associations, 25 Oct 2021.

3Economics Department. "Driver Shortage Update 2022," American Trucking Associations, 25 Oct 2022. PDF file.

4Martin, Marina. "CDL Grants and Scholarships — The Ultimate Guide," Trucker's Training, accessed 7 Nov 2023.

5"Everything You'll Want To Know About Paid CDL Training," Smart Trucking, 19 Jul 2023.

6"How Long Does Truck Driver Training Take?," CDL Career Now, accessed 7 Nov 2023.

7Brewster, Rebecca. "ATRI Parking Diaries Give Voice to Driver Struggles Finding Truck Parking," American Transportation Research Institute, 13 Dec 2016.

8"ATA Lauds Congressional Effort to Improve Availability of Truck Parking," American Trucking Associations, 29 Mar 2021.

9"ELD Fact Sheet," Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 31 Oct 2017.

10Balthrop, Andrew et al. "Did the Electronic Logging Device Mandate Reduce Accidents?", ResearchGate, Jan 2019.

11"Driving Automation Systems In Long-Haul Trucking and Bus Transit," US Department of Transportation, Jan 2021.

12Gross, Andrew. "Truck Safety Technology Can Prevent 63,000 Crashes Each Year," AAA Newsroom, 21 Sept 2017.