Truck driver pay is heading up, with a 2.2 percent increase in February from January and a 4.6 percent increase year-over-year, according to Longbow Research.
The 4.6 percent year-over-year increase in average hourly earnings is the largest jump in driver pay since early 2003, as the economy emerged from a downturn.
Both figures represent dramatic increases over previous months, and indicate carriers are putting more money on the table to attract drivers as demand rises.
Trucking's payroll dropped 13.4 percent from 2006 through 2009 before rising 1.5 percent in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The American Trucking Associations noted an uptick in payroll among truckload and less-than-truckload carriers in the last three months of 2010.
Small truckload companies increased their driver payroll 0.8 percent, while large truckload carriers boosted employment 0.3 percent, according to the ATA.
The larger carriers added line-haul drivers but trimmed local driving pools in the fourth quarter, while increasing dispatching staff 3.1 percent, the ATA said.
Driver pay is expected to increase this year as tighter federal safety regulations cut into the pool of available drivers just as freight demand becomes stronger.
Trucking companies and logistics providers say increasing difficulty in recruiting drivers is putting a cap on their ability to increase highway capacity.
Many carriers are looking to add capacity without taking on additional capital costs by contracting with owner-operators who own their own Class 8 tractors.
In March, truckload giant Schneider National increased its compensation for van owner-operators by 5 cents a mile, a significant pay hike in for-hire trucking.
That increase by the nation's third-largest truckload carrier is likely to have a ripple effect throughout a trucking industry hard-pressed to find qualified drivers.
"Schneider is very serious about competing for the very best owner-operators in the industry," said Gordon Klemp, president of the National Transportation Institute.
The institute ranks trucking companies according to driver pay and benefits and publishes and annual survey on driver wages among 35,000 for-hire carriers.
The 5-cent increase brings owner-operator pay to 95 cents a mile, or up to $1.65 per mile with short-haul premiums, the Green Bay, Wis., trucking company said.