Truck Driver Salary

  1. How much do truck drivers make?

  2. What are the highest-paying trucking jobs?

  3. How does local or long-haul truck driving affect my pay?

  4. How are truck drivers paid?

  5. What is per diem for truck drivers?

  6. What are the highest-paying trucking companies?

  7. How do I make more money as a truck driver?

  8. How do I get the miles I want?

  9. What bonuses and benefits can I get as truck driver?

  10. Is truck driving a good job?

  11. Is truck driving a good career for my future?

  12. Is truck driving a good next step after the military?

HOW MUCH DO TRUCK DRIVERS MAKE?

When it comes to salary, there’s good news. Over-the-road (or long-haul) truck driving is a job in high demand, and it pays well – even more than firefighters!

This guide will give you everything you need to know: salary figures, growth numbers, all the factors that determine your pay, the future outlook, and more.

Let’s start with some numbers. The median pay of a Class A over-the-road OTR driver is $54,000 a year. These wages have also been growing at a rate of 8% per year, which is higher than the rate of inflation.

In the chart below, you can see that OTR trucking stands above other careers in wage growth.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Glassdoor.com, and the American Trucking Association

While some people may push back at the idea of truck driving as a growing career, we’ve crunched the numbers and found the truth. The money is there for Class A truck drivers, especially for those that take OTR and Regional routes (more on those later!)

When looking at inflation rates, you can see that the future for truck driving is bright. Truck driving is not falling behind like many other careers. See the chart below.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

HOW DOES TRUCK DRIVING COMPARE TO OTHER JOBS?

For a full comparison of how truck drivers compare to other jobs, we have added the chart below. These include many jobs that truck drivers used to have before switching to driving.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Glassdoor.com, and the American Trucking Association

Truck driving is a challenging career. It will quickly separate the wheat from the chaff. But if you have the ambition and the grit to make truck driving work for you, then you will be rewarded with a healthy salary.

If you’re in one of the careers listed above with lower salary and lower growth, then you should read this entire guide and see if truck driving is for you. And if you know someone that is in one of those careers, then tell them that truck driving might be for them too.

WHAT DETERMINES TRUCK DRIVER PAY?

So far, we’ve given a good overview of the pay and the idea of growth within truck driving. But truck driver pay gets a little more complicated than that.

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?

When you consider a trucking career, it’s important to understand that there are a variety of different types of truck driver jobs in addition to the difference between long-haul and short-haul.

Hundred dollar bills
Trucking offers good pay with bonuses and perks.

The average salary for truck drivers varies according to the number of miles 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.

There are also owner operators, who own a truck. Many company drivers want to eventually become owner-operators, and we will discuss this in depth later.

When  discussing the average truck driver salary, you should also consider that drivers are paid less in their first year, which brings down the average.

If a long-haul driver dedicates themselves to putting in the miles, a truck driver’s 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.

Below is a chart comparing the four main types of truck drivers.

 

Salaries for Different Types of Truck Drivers (2016)

Here’s how to understand those numbers:

  • Owner-operators own their own trucks and get paid more. (Source of data: Overdrive Online)
  • Class A long-haul drivers have a Class A license and make more money for the long distances they drive. (Source of data: Glassdoor.com)
  • Class A truck drivers includes both long-haul and short-haul. The Class A license allows you to make more money with better freight. (Source of data: Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • Class B and C truck drivers make less money for driving smaller vehicles. Their routes are usually local. (Source of data: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

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
trucking company.

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.

Check out the below quote and video from popular YouTuber Red Viking Trucker:

I’m just under 70,000 dollars for my first year as a company driver.  But make no mistake – I run my face off. – Red Viking Trucker, min. 9:10-9:21

When a CDL Driver Enters the Workforce

As with any job, new truck drivers can expect to spend time with a trainer. Unlike other jobs, this means you go on the road with your trainer for a few additional weeks.

Truck pulling out of a truck stop
Rookie truck drivers hit the road with a trainer.

On-the-road training gives you a chance to immediately experience the trucker’s lifestyle. 

The skills you gain during training will build the foundation for the rest of your 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 with a trainer as quickly as possible. 

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.

Red truck hauling a tanker
Experienced drivers get higher-paying freight.

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 can then haul specific freight or specific trailers. This includes 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.

 

About The Authors
Contributors: Sade Turner (Logistics for 5+ years and technical writer), Jessica Cottner (Experienced writer with a background in travel and transportation).

Expert review: William Mason (Current CDL Instructor and former truck driver with 20+ years of experience), Luke Nold (Experienced truck driver for 5+ years and published writer for Fleet Magazine).