The trucking business offers a variety of driving occupations, from hauling heavy machinery across the country to making several local grocery deliveries in a single day. Because of this wide variety, the average truck driver salary depends on a number of factors including:
- What you drive
- What you haul
- Where you go
- How long it takes to get there.
A simple divide also splits the two primary types of drivers: Long haul and local. The long-haul truckers typically drive long distances across the nation and tend to earn a higher salary than their short-haul counterparts.
- Long haul, also called “over-the-road” or OTR, is more than a job. It’s a lifestyle. And it’s not for everyone. Because of the demands of the job, trucking companies are always looking for long-haul drivers, and they’re willing to pay more to get them.
- Local or short-haul truck drivers typically make less due to various factors, such as being paid an hourly wage rather than by the mile. Despite lower pay, these jobs are in-demand because the drivers get more time at home.
Due to an increased demand for home time, there is also an emerging employment option for drivers called “regional”. These drivers typically stay 500-700 miles from their home terminal and get to be home 2-3 times a week. These highly-competitive jobs pay as much as OTR positions and can usually can be attained with one year of verifiable experience. Due to population density, geography, and available freight, these jobs are primarily found east of I-35.
What is the Average Truck Driver Salary?
The average salary for truck drivers varies according to the distance traveled, the type of cargo being hauled, and the company perks that are offered.
A long-haul truck driver can also increase their base salary with profitable bonuses, such as sleeper, layover, and inconvenience or detention pay.
Taking these monetary perks into consideration, the annual salary of a long-haul driver on average is $44,000.
This number doesn’t tell the whole story though.
Drivers are paid less in their first year, which brings down the average, and their salary is dependent upon how many miles are driven.
If a long-haul driver dedicates themselves to putting in the miles, the upper limit of the average truck driver pay can reach $65,000 after the first year.
The median pay of truck drivers, mostly long-haul, is $54,000 a year. Wages jumped 7.8% in October 2016 – Source: Glassdoor.com via CNN Money.
Local drivers rarely have bountiful bonus options available. Instead, they are typically paid by the hour, for an average salary of $42,000 per year.
How Much Do Truck Drivers Make Starting Out?
The road to become a professional truck driver is straightforward and ultimately rewarding. Aspiring truckers are required to earn a Commercial Driver’s License, or CDL, before signing up with a reputable
Some companies offer “paid CDL training,” which combines the CDL school and the testing, with an offer of employment at a reduced rate. Drivers typically work for these trucking companies for a year in order to pay off the education provided. After a certain amount of time, some of these companies even reimburse a portion of that money to the driver.
Once rookie drivers have successfully adapted to their new profession, then the journey truly begins. The first year of a new truck driver often involves adapting an exciting and challenging new lifestyle full of hard work and personal growth.
When a CDL Driver Enters the Workforce
As with any job, new truck drivers can expect to spend time with a trainer. Employees will learn the culture and expectations of their trucking company in a classroom setting for approximately two weeks. Afterward, rookie drivers are paired with trainers, and they go on the road together for a few additional weeks.
On-the-road training gives the new driver a chance to immediately experience the trucker’s lifestyle. The ability to maintain a positive working relationship with the trainer greatly impacts the successful completion of the training period, but more importantly the skills gained will build the foundation for the rest of the driver’s career.
During this time frame, new drivers may receive a wage for training. Typically, this wage is lower than the average truck driving salary, due to the rookie driver being paid by the hour. Drivers that have paid for their CDL training outright may earn approximately $500 a week during training.
If a driver has opted for a company paid CDL training, however, the low hourly wage may be further reduced as the CDL training expenses are deducted weekly. This usually leaves the rookie driver with approximately $300 to $400 a week.
Trucking companies that offer CDL training, such as Swift, Roehl, Celadon, Schneider, Prime Inc., and CRST typically hire their graduates and get them on the road as quickly as possible. To earn the most during the beginning phase, new drivers should compare the training salary that is offered by each company before signing up to drive.
During the training period, some trucking companies offer a base salary but will pay more if the drivers exceed a certain number of miles. For example, Swift offers new drivers $600 a week or 12 cents per mile, whereas Celadon offers $450 a week or 18 cents per mile.
When the Annual Salary Kicks In
Once the training period has concluded, rookie drivers will be able to transport their first haul on their own. The routes rookie drivers usually get are not the greatest and average 2,500 miles at approximately 15 cents per mile.
Rookie drivers usually get normal routes without specialty freight. These early hauls will help new drivers familiarize themselves with the trucking lifestyle. After a rookie driver has a few of these routes under their belt, they will be able to seek other, better-paying opportunities.
One way for truck drivers to earn more money is to get their endorsements. Once a CDL driver completes a specific endorsement test, they are able to haul additional types of freight, including: double or triple trailers, refrigerated trailers, tanker vehicles, and hazardous materials (HAZMAT).
Due to the usefulness of endorsements, we highly recommended for rookie drivers to obtain all of them when attaining their Class A CDL. This makes for a seamless transition from shorter, normal routes to longer, higher-paying endorsement jobs.
By the time a rookie driver is ready to take on endorsement jobs, they should we well-trained and prepared to take on most emergencies that may occur out on the road. Knowing how to handle these situations takes planning, patience, and practice that can only be attained through months of direct experience.
Completing the First Year
Within the first six months, truck drivers should start to see an increase in their salary. Although the average truck driver salary varies based on the state and trucking company, rookie drivers typically make $20,000 to $45,000 during the first year. This amount increases to the approximate range of $40,000 to $55,000 in the second year and goes even higher with additional endorsements.
Once the company training has ended and the CDL lessons are paid for, a truck drivers’ salary increases substantially. If rookie drivers are willing to work hard for the first year until these milestones are in the rear-view mirror, they can expect a profitable and personally-rewarding career in the road ahead.