Home Trucking FAQs What is a first-year truck driver salary?

What is a first-year truck driver salary?

Are you considering a career in the trucking industry and want to know what you can expect for CDL driver salary in the first year? The following information can help you learn the ways your pay can be affected in the trucking industry.
In 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported that the long-haul industry was 48,000 drivers short. This has created a demand for quality drivers – even those with limited experience or fresh out of CDL training.
In a nutshell, your CDL salary will vary depending on several factors, including:

  • What kind of driving job you pursue
  • Where you live
  • The company you drive for
  • What certifications you have
  • And other factors

You also need to understand that there is currently a driver shortage industry-wide. This means, in short, that it is a good time to look into CDL training.
Most trucking schools have relationships with trucking companies, which can make it easier to find work once you complete your CDL training. Likewise, many companies may offer to pay for your training, or reimburse you after you drive for them for a certain period of time.

Competitive Benefits

That is a term you are probably familiar with if you have scoured the trucking ads for jobs in your area. Because of the need for skilled drivers, companies understand that the salary of a tuck driver isn’t the only factor in your decision to choose to work for a particular carrier.
In addition to a fair or generous per-mile rate or trucker salary, you may also receive medical and dental benefits, 401K and bonus programs for drivers. These incentives are certainly worth factoring into your salary concerns. Paid time off and holidays, as well as sign-on bonuses should be on your list of considerations as well. With current demand, sign-on bonuses of $3-5K are not unheard of.
The same Wall Street Journal story, linked to above, tells the story of Alex Topolse, who went from ‘flipping burgers’ to driving a chemical truck in 2013. In his first two years, he received two raises, and was on track to earn $70,000 that year.

The Salary Potential for First-year Heavy Truck Drivers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers earned a median annual wage of $40,260 in 2015. However, depending on where you live, what kind of industry you work in – and how many miles you’ve driven, there may be other determining factors for compensation.
On the low end, the BLS says the lowest paid drivers were paid around $26,000 per year, while the most experienced drivers were paid an average $62,010 per year – which is quite a big jump. It may be easy to conclude that if you don’t have previous experience that you could earn about $30,000 a year. But, it’s best to check your local listings and call a few trucking schools and employers in your area to be sure.
The average truck driver salary isn’t just about your level of experience, it can also vary by industry. So, if you’re just starting out, here are the average salaries from 2015 for the top three industries in the heavy trucking industry:

  • General freight trucking – $42,320
  • Specialized freight trucking – $40,840
  • Wholesale trade – $39,500

This work is generally full-time and pays per-mile.

Highest paying states for heavy truck drivers

As noted above, where you live can impact your trucker salary as well. Here are the states with the highest employment levels, along with their annual mean wage, using data from the BLS:

  • Texas (181,640 truck drivers) – $41,300
  • California (129,170 truck drivers) – 44,030
  • Pennsylvania (76,960 v) – $43,840
  • Florida (72,280 truck drivers) – $37,830
  • Ohio (71,710 truck drivers) – $42,760

Local Delivery Jobs Starting CDL driver Salary

If you do not have trucking experience and might not be ready to commit to the “lifestyle” that over-the-road trucking jobs demand, starting out as a local delivery driver for companies, such as FedEx and UPS might be a good way to enter the industry.
Unlike heavy truck driving jobs that require a CDL, some of these driving jobs do not require more than a state-issued driver’s license. Of course, you will still need to have a clean driving record, be ready to pass a drug test, and pass other qualifications based on their needs.
In these positions, the pay can vary, but doing a search on several job boards will show pay that can range around $11-20 per hour in today’s job market for delivery driver jobs. That is a wide range, which is why it’s important to look at the requirements for each position. Higher paying jobs may have more requirements. While lower paying jobs may not require as much training or skill behind the wheel.
Obviously, if you want to make as much money as possible your first year, OTR trucking is probably right for you. But if you have to weigh family responsibilities, or want to avoid a life on the road, then making a lower wage while you seek CDL training for higher paying routes that guarantee you’ll be home every night.

Average Truck Driver Salary and Pay According to Simply Hired

Although we rely on the BLS for our official salary data, we do recommend readers look for several sources of information to help make up their minds. We have saved you the time, with this simple breakdown of data provided by SimplyHired.com.

How can you increase your earning potential your first year?

Okay, so you get the driving gig you want – and you’re happy with the pay and benefits. So what can you do to make sure you maximize your earning potential from day one?

Safety, safety, safety.

Everyone is familiar with stories of drivers acting irresponsibly or being blamed for accidents on the road. Even though most drivers are top-notch, these few and far between accidents can cause big headaches (financial and PR-wise) for companies and the industry as a whole. That’s why you’ll see safety bonuses written into driver contracts. Make your first year successful by taking your training seriously, and following the advice of your superiors and driving peers.

Save gas. Make money.

Yep, you save fuel, and you can sometimes earn extra pay. Since fuel costs can be unpredictable – and let’s face it, never as cheap as we want it – carriers will sometimes pay you for being fuel-efficient.

DOT inspections.

Carriers also understand the benefit of drivers who always have clean inspections. Learn everything you need to know about DOT requirements, and start your career off on the right foot.

The Time is Right for Starting a Trucking Career

The need for truckers is obvious, and the financial incentives are out there for drivers who would enjoy a life on the road or working local or regional routes.
The next step is contacting schools and companies about training and careers. The great thing about trucking is how interwoven the schools and carriers are. Use our directory to reach out to the trucking companies and schools that can help you learn more about salary and career opportunities for entry-level truck drivers.