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Step 3: How much do truck drivers make?


How much do truck drivers make and what can truck drivers expect to make in their first year?

This article is step 3 in our multi-step Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a CDL Driver. To read the entire guide follow the link above to be taken to our step by step slideshow.

Table of contents:

OK, now that we have discussed some of the challenges that you might experience as a truck driver lets shift gears and talk about the amount of pay you can expect to see. Let’s be honest, for many, the reason they are thinking about becoming a truck driver is because of the opportunity.  So let’s dig in.  How much do CDL drivers really make and what can a new driver with no experience really expect to see from a compensation stand point?

Average Pay for Truck Drivers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for tractor-trailer truck drivers in 2015 was $40,260 [i]   This means the average weekly pay for a professional CDL truck driver is only $774.23 per week. One of the problems that is facing the industry is that on average, pay is too low for the amount of sacrifice that drivers must make to perform the duties of the job. In the last section we discussed many of the challenges that prospective truck drivers need to consider before deciding to join the industry, but normally the biggest concern is that Over-The-Road drivers will be out for multiple weeks at a time before getting back home. After getting a better understanding about the nature of the transportation industry and learning more about the average compensation for truck drivers it becomes easy to understand why many potential new drivers rethink their future as a CDL Driver. However, it’s not all doom and gloom and there is good news. Due to the growing driver shortage, the trucking industry as a whole has the challenge of figuring out ways to attract new talent to the trucking industry.  Veteran drivers are on their way out of the industry so that means a new group of truck drivers needs to be trained up to take their place. Because of this, the trucking industry has slowly reached a tipping point. The current driver shortage has forced trucking companies to compete for the same driver pool of truckers and as a result OTR driving jobs are starting to pay more with an increased focus of providing more home time.  This means current CDL holders who are looking for a career in driving OTR (Over-The-Road) have many different opportunities available to them. Truck Driver pay has continued to rise over the last several years and it does not look like it is slowing down anytime soon.  With that being said there is no better time than now to consider becoming a professional truck driver.

Normally, OTR Drivers are paid by the mile for the freight that that they haul, but some drivers can be paid by the load, by the day, by the hour, or even given a salary. The most common form of compensation is paid out by the mile. It sounds simple, but there are many qualifiers that some companies put into place that may limit the amount of money that the driver can earn. When searching for top paying driving jobs it is critical that the prospective driver asks the right questions to determine how they are to be paid since there are multiple variations in how trucking companies pay out by the mile. Some variations include, practical mileage pay, hub mile pay, and shortest route pay. On top of these different scenarios, the driver needs to determine if they paid for empty and loaded miles both. Some companies pay the same regardless on if the driver is empty or loaded while other companies may pay nothing for empty miles. Another type of pay is called sliding scale pay where the trucking company will pay a different rate of pay depending on the length of haul for the load that they are on. Overall, there are many different options for how trucking companies pay and when it comes time it will be your responsibility as a prospective driver to ask these questions to find out.

What can a new truck driver with no experience expect to make in their first year?

In order to help new truck drivers understand what they can expect to make in the first year of driving we took the liberty of polling our community of drivers by asking them the following question.

  1. From your experience, how much pay can a new CDL driver expect to make in their first year?

As you can see the from results above, over 69% of respondents said that new truck drivers should expect to make less than $40,000 in their first year.  with just over 45% percent of respondents telling us that new drivers should expect to make $35,000 or less in their first year.  If you are thinking about becoming a truck driver hopefully this gives you some insight on what truck driver wages are for first year drivers.

What is the top pay for truck drivers?

The problem with trying to figure out what the top pay for truck drivers is that there are so many different variables that determine what a truck driver can make that it makes it nearly impossible to through out an hypothetical number. For example: Is the driver a company driver, lease purchase driver, or owner operator. Is the driver’s miles consistent every week? Are they running dedicated freight that sets the driver up with regularly schedule pick-ups and deliveries or does the driver not know what they are hauling or where they are going and everything is day by day planned? Is the driver getting stop pay, layover pay, detention pay, unloading pay? The list is endless. The best advice that we can give is to make sure you do research, take notes, and request all of the compensation details be sent to you so you have it in writing. It is not uncommon for some company drivers to make $1,600 plus per week. Overall, In our opinion, if you are a safe driver and you are not making at least $1,200 per week there are probably better paying jobs out there for you.  At the end of the day it just depends on what your overall needs are.

To better answer this question we polled our community of drivers and asked them the following question.

  1. As an experienced driver in the industry, how much money do you earn annually being a commercial truck driver?

How much do truck drivers make.-min

As you can see from the responses the results we pretty wide spread. This goes to tell us that its difficult to come up with an accurate number because there are just so many different types of jobs out there. Based off of the results 47.5% of respondents said that they made between $50,000 and $70,000 per year as a commercial truck driver.

How competitive is the job market for CDL drivers?

It should be no secret by now, but trucking companies need more drivers and they are willing to go to great efforts to make sure that you know about it. Just look at all of the companies within our truck driving jobs section that is looking for drivers just like you. Stop in at a truck stop and drivers are exposed to dozens of trucking job magazines that are offered for free. Do a search on google and notice all of the advertising that you will see within your web browser. The point is that companies are competing for your attention. They need your services and a lot of them are now offering big bonuses and incentive programs all with the goal of getting the driver to sign up for orientation.

[i] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/transportation-and-material-moving/heavy-and-tractor-trailer-truck-drivers.htm (visited March 06, 2017).


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