How Much Can a Truck Driver Make | First Year Salary

If you are considering taking up commercial over-the-road trucking as a professional career, you will likely already have an idea of how much you can make. The trucking industry is an enormous boon to the US economy and is valued at over 700 billion dollars.

Once you have taken care to acquire all the necessary training and credentials you will be ready to grab your slice of that pie as a long-haul trucker.

You could be driving heavy-duty equipment hundreds of miles from the docks to manufacturers or moving supplies a similar distance on ice roads to gold mines and oil big rig. Whatever you decide, you have the potential to go from five figures in your first year to six in no time.

The Average Truck Drivers Salaries

Truck Drivers Experience LevelsAverage Salary (per year)
StudentStudent drivers earn around 41,000 USD.
Commercial Driver’s License (CDL Class)CDL truckers earn about 66,000 USD.
Over the Road (OTR CDL)Truckers with this certification make 82,000 USD.
Team Truck DriversEach driver could make up to 71,000 USD.

What is the First Year Truck Driver Salary?

First Year Truck Driver SalaryThere is no doubt that trucking is a profitable career but you must start somewhere. In your first year as a truck driver, you will get paid tens of thousands of dollars.

How much exactly that will vary. Reports produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shed some light on the variance.

In its 2016 report, it was revealed that those who receive the lowest first-year trucker salary – the bottom ten percent – made less than 26,920 USD. That would include student/entry-level drivers as well as those who work part time. Having said that, there are new truck drivers that receive as high as 35,000 USD in the first year.

All you need to do is check out reputable truckstop load boards and monthly employment outlook reports like those produced by SimplyHired. You are bound to find lots of jobs where the first year truck driver salary is upwards of 27,000 dollars.

What You Can Expect to Make in Your Second Year?

How much can truck drivers make in the second year? This is way harder to figure out that the average salary for rookie drivers.

The limited information available to us, however, suggests that this is something that is determined by company-specific policy. There have been reports of wages rising by a thousand dollars with each passing year if you work in a specific position.

With continuity, you can expect similar modest raises in your second year as a trucker. It is important to remember that this is only the second year. You can make good money, much better than yearly increments of 1 CPM, working a given route in a given role. Along the line, you may earn more qualifications and gather enough experience to leave such a position for one that pays better and has a better pay scale.

Trucking Companies that Offer the Best Salaries for Beginner Drivers

Which Trucking Companies Offer The Best Pay For New DriversLet’s have a look at the starting pay or 1st year salaries obtainable as a beginner at a number of reputable companies.

CON-WAY FREIGHT: This company is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is one of the companies that you ought to consider for your first trucking gig. If you already have a Commercial Driver’s License when you start, you are entitled to reimbursements of as much as 4000 USD.

On the other hand, if you are yet to obtain one, the company has a training program you can take advantage of. There is even the option for student drivers to offset tuition fees with the amount of work you put in.

While working in that capacity you earn $0.26 for every mile until 10,000, $0.31 for every mile you drive between that and the 60,000 mark, $0.33 for every mile you drive over the next 30,000 miles, $0.35 for every mile you drive over the next 30,000 miles, and $0.38 for every mile over the next 5000 miles. With bonuses available, driver salaries get even higher.

SWIFT TRANSPORTATION: Swift Transportation has its headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, and is a nice place to work if you are just getting started with trucking. Like Con-Way, this outfit runs a training program. It likewise allows you to take classes for free as long as you are willing to work for reduced wages over the next twenty-six months.

If you are fine with that and you get hired, then you will be able to benefit from one of the biggest paychecks available for drivers anywhere. After the aforementioned 26-month period, swift drivers start earning as much as 40,000 USD yearly.

TMC: Another opportunity that would be rewarding is that offered by Des Moines, Iowa-based TMC transportation. Industry reports have revealed that new drivers could earn as much as 44,000 USD yearly. With time and experience, though, the paycheck gets even bigger and $64,713 is the average income drivers make per year.

J.B. HUNT: Working at Lowell, Arkansas-based J.B. Hunt is another lucrative opportunity entry-level truckers should keep tabs on. A report revealed that new drivers could make up to 50,000 USD yearly.

CRETE CARRIER: Another recommendation that you ought to check out is Nebraska-based Crete Carrier. New truckers are paid as much as 37,000 USD per year for a start. The pay truckers working at Crete receive per year, on average, is $56,440.

When you talk to drivers already in the business, they tell stories of how pay varies from company to company for newcomers. There are drivers who make as little as 300 dollars a week and those that earn 1000 dollars per week. That works out to 15,600 dollars at the very least or $52,000 at the upper end.

Which Regions Pay the Highest New Truck Driver Salary?

Which-Regions-Pay-The-Most-To-Truck-DriversWhen it comes to the question of which regions pay the highest new truck driver salary, it is important to note that there is this thing called market forces.

Market forces ensure that there is only a little or sometimes negligible variation in wages across the US after you have accounted for the cost of living.

Having said that, these are the hottest regions an entry-level truck driver should consider:

  • Massachusetts
  • Alaska
  • Illinois
  • Colorado
  • New York
  • Nevada
  • Connecticut
  • New Jersey
  • Utah
  • North Dakota
  • Wyoming
  • Washington
  • Montana

Factors That Can Affect Your Truck Driving Income

  • License: It goes without saying that truck drivers who have commercial driver’s licenses start on a better footing and earn more money as a result.
  • Distances: Distance is another factor. How much ground you are willing to cover may be directly proportional to how much you earn. It all boils down to whether or not you find such long distances personally convenient.
  • Location: Like we’ve pointed out already, this has only a minimal effect on earnings but could narrow things down for you.
  • Experience: Trucking is a very demanding profession and it is little wonder many don’t last on the job. It requires a great deal of patience to work in a particular role and ply a particular route for years until you get a bigger salary that makes a difference.
  • Role: There are several roles you can choose from in the business. Team trucking, ice road trucking, and hauling hazardous freight are three roles that fetch you highest wages instantly.
  • Bonuses & Benefits: Taking a cursory look at the bonuses and benefits a company offers could very well help you reach a decision with regard to income you’re comfortable with.

Investing in Your Education

Once you have figured out the companies that pay the best salaries in a region that would be comfortable for you to work, what comes next? If you’ve never driven semi trucks or 18 wheelers before, investing in your education is the next thing you should do. Like some of the companies listed above, training to become a trucker may come with entry level truck driver jobs.

Do You Need a CDL?

If you are not sure whether getting a Commercial Driver’s License is a necessity, you should know that having one does make a difference. There are statistics that back that up. came out with a report showing the average salary of CDL truckers is 62,752 USD a year.

That is nearly $20,000 higher than the national median income for the truck driver. The benefit is obvious. Then, again, you should also consider the legal merits of getting one. The law requires all long-haul drivers to have a CDL. You will turn off a lot of companies if you do not have one because none wants to pay avoidable fines.

You don’t want to miss out on opportunities or get fined for something that is pretty easy to obtain. It is quite affordable. As earlier alluded to, there a lot of driving schools that do not require you to pay tuition upfront for you to choose from. So, why not take advantage of the opportunity?

Pay per Hour Opportunities

Pay per hour jobs or pay per mile jobs? This is one of the most important choices that aspiring truck driver is faced with. Some trucking companies favor the former while others go with the latter. FedEx and UPS, for example, prefer hiring drivers willing to work under the pay per hour model. When hiring freight truckers, however, the pay per mile model is the preferred one.

Thanks to the 11/14 hour rule, long-haul truck drivers or freight drivers are at work even when their trucks are stationary. Aside from that, a large majority of drivers only get to be home twice a week.

For those reasons, with a pay per mile job, you are set to earn more cash than you would if you were to get employed under a pay per hour contract. If you were to drive say 650 miles a day at a rate of thirty cents a mile, you would earn $195 in one day. You could make almost $1000 weekly.

Conversely if, for example, an experienced solo OTR driver has a contract for say 60 cents per mile, driving loads on the interstate at 70 miles per hour would get him 42 dollars an hour. In the end, it all boils down to what kind of contract you are comfortable with. You may find pay per hour opportunities to be a better fit for your schedule and preferred location.

The Highest Paying Trucker Jobs

Dedicated Driver: Drivers who take up this role agree to work for a particular company and will only haul that company’s loads. You can expect to be taking a particular route repeatedly. If you settle into this role, income could grow up to 65,000 USD.

Solo OTR Driver: Solo over the road truck drivers typically earn a median income ranging from 40,000 to 45,000 dollars by the end of the year.

Trainer: If along the line, you decide to take up the role of the trainer at your company’s driving school, your earnings per year could be as much as $80,000. You must, of course, already have your own CDL class license.

Team OTR Driver: This is one of the most coveted roles you could work in as a trucker. It will require you to coordinate deliveries with another driver so that they are shared and work is less stressful. This will afford you more time to rest and more time for your family as you will be driving less. A team covers more ground in less time and each member gets compensation for the entire distance. Most team truck drivers make 100k per year on average.

Specialized Driver: This is a broad category that includes ice road trucking, line haul, hazmat driving, driving heavy loads that can be flown in an aircraft. Though ice road truckers are only active during the winter season, they have the potential of surpassing the wages of non-specialized truckers in only a few months – owner-operators make up to $250K.

Owner-Operator: Progressing in the professional trucking business to the level of owner-operator grants you the ultimate flexibility in decision-making. It also guarantees that you would make over $100K per year with a good reputation. It is worth pointing out that you will more than likely fail in this role if you dive in right away. It is something you should undertake only after gathering enough experience. The same principle applies to team driving.

Final Words

Whatever role you decide to take up after completing training, keep in mind that jobs are always available in this industry. Patience could be the difference between becoming one of many 18 wheeler drivers landing a high-paying job or settling for lower pay.

It is best to keep an open mind, though, because there are other factors besides trucking pay that also help determine whether you will succeed in the business in the long run. Equal pay is not an issue in this industry. Female truckers make exactly the same as male drivers.

Many local truck drivers have found the transition to making cross country deliveries to be worthwhile. Whether you choose to work part-time or full-time you are in for a thrilling experience.