The State That Pays Truck Drivers the Most Is Also the Most Dangerous
After years of working as an automotive journalist, my head is packed with transportation trivia. While my friends and family feel most of these factoids are fruitless, I’m pleasantly surprised how often they prove beneficial. For example, I once read that though Nebraska has relatively few semi truck drivers, they are paid more on average than truckers based out of any other state. But I had no clue why. Then I stumbled across a study naming Nebraska “The most dangerous state for truck drivers.” Are these facts connected? Let’s find out.
How much are truck drivers paid in Nebraska?
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that the average Nebraska trucker makes $30.56 an hour and $63,560 annually. That makes them the highest-paid heavy truck and semi-truck drivers in the country.
Where in Nebraska are these high-paid truckers? According to the BLS, Nebraska is home to the two metropolitan areas with the highest-paid truck drivers. The 4,990 truckers working out of Lincoln, Nebraska, make $35.10 per hour on average. That translates to $73,020 every year. The 11,020 truckers employed by companies in Omaha-Council Bluffs on the Nebraska/Iowa border make $32.23/year on average, or $67,030 annually.
For comparison’s sake, a semi-truck driver working out of San Francisco comes in third place, earning $30.83/hour on average. But the nationwide average is $25.52/hour.
Could the reason Nebraska semi-truck drivers make so much money be a sort of hazard pay for driving in the most dangerous state in the country?
What’s the most dangerous state for truck driving?
There are many ways to crunch these numbers. But we know that Nebraska has the highest percentage of fatal traffic crashes involving a heavy truck or semi-truck. Iowa and Kansas come in close behind.
I was recently emailed a study completed by a personal injury lawyer. He named Nebraska the “most dangerous state for truck drivers,” but I’m not fully convinced. Here’s how he arrived at his conclusion.
The study took the number of fatal traffic crashes in each state–as reported by the NHTSA–then divided it by the number of those crashes that involved a large truck. Nebraska was, unfortunately, the site of 311 fatal traffic accidents in 2011. Fifty of those involved a large truck, or 16.08%. That’s the highest percentage of any state. So, is Nebraska the most dangerous state for truck drivers? Not necessarily.
This data does not take into account whether the truck drivers were the ones who died in said accidents. It does not even consider whether or not they were the ones who caused these accidents. In fact, western and midwestern states have a higher percentage of drivers falling asleep at the wheel and causing fatal accidents. The long stretch of I-70 and I-80 in Nebraska may be to blame for truckers being involved in fatal accidents, but for all we know, big rig drivers may usually be walking away unscathed. I’m obviously not saying I know for sure, just that more research is needed.
Iowa had 491 fatal traffic accidents in 2021, 76 involving large trucks (15.48%). Kansas had 603, 87 of which involved large trucks (14.43%). By this measure, the safest state for truckers would be Rhode Island, which only had three fatal accidents, none of which involved a large truck. Almost as safe are Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, Hawaii, and Connecticut.
Are Nebraska truckers paid more because it’s a dangerous state?
My gut says “no.” But both of these phenomena may be caused by the same thing. The long stretches of major interstate highway running across Nebraska may lead to more fatal semi-truck crashes. And in addition, the long-haul runs that Nebraska trucking companies specialize in may lead to tons of overtime for local truckers. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.
Next, find out the surprising reason so many semi-truck trailers have Maine license plates, or ride along with a truck driver in Nebraska in the video below: