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Can You Thrive on the Average Semi Truck Driver Salary?

  • 5 MIN READ|
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  • by Noel Ballon|
  • May 10, 2019 |
  • General

Truck driver sitting near her semi truck

If you are new to the trucking industry or thinking about becoming a trucker; there are a few things you'd like to know. One of the essential questions being: What is the average salary of a truck driver? In this article, we're going to answer all the questions you have regarding your earning potential as a future owner operator truck driver in the United States.

Before I get into what the annual salary for a truck driver is, understand that it is an average and the salary of a truck driver job varies greatly depending on how long you have been driving and where you reside. There are plenty of people making a substantial living by trucking, but there are also plenty of people that make well under the average salary of a truck driver. With this in mind, you have to do your research to decide what payment method is right for you as well as where you want to begin your trucking journey and what company you are going to truck for. All of these will play a role in how much you can potentially make as a truck driver.

I’m just going to throw a bunch of numbers at you, but don’t panic I’ll be sure to explain the significance for all of them and what they mean for you. The national average for the salary of a truck driver is $44,500 a year, and the highest paying state has an average salary of $56,250 a year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of last year. In the last couple of years, the wages of truck drivers has been on the rise (ex: the national average for the salary of a truck driver in May of 2014 was only $39,520). The reason it has been rising the last couple of years is that the occupation doesn’t have a very high appeal to the younger generation. So each year there is a greater need for more truck drivers, but not as many to step up and fill that role.

According to CNN, last year there was a shortage of 50,000 truck drivers. So that number is just going to continue to rise! With our economy becoming more reliant on goods being able to be transported from one place to another on time with companies such as Amazon becoming more mainstream, trucking is going to continue seeing a rise. The top 10% of truckers can make an average of $64,000 a year. If you are looking to make a living as a trucker in our very own Arizona, you’ll find that the standard is very close to the national average salary at $44,640 a year. remember that this is the average, and for rookie drivers, the salary is generally on the lower end of the spectrum. As you get more experience, you will also start to get paid more.

  • National average: 44,500
  • Top paying state: Alaska with 56,250
  • Top 10% of drivers make 64,000
  • Arizona Average: 44,640

 

Different Ways Pay Is Calculated

Pay is calculated in a variety of different ways for semi truck drivers. It depends on the company that you work for, and whether or not you are a long haul driver or a local truck driver. Generally, there are two different ways that you will generate income, paid per mile or paid per hour. Pay per mile means that you are paid a certain amount for each mile that you drive. This payment method is usually used for long-haul drivers, but this doesn’t mean that it is exclusively used for these types of drivers. If you aren’t a long haul or OTR (Over the Road) driver, then you probably won’t make as much if you are paid using this method. The other way of payment, paid per hour, should be pretty self-explanatory, but it means you get paid an amount for every hour that you work. Each method of payment has its pros and cons, so it is up to you to decide which one is right for you.

A truck driving tip for those that are contemplating working for a company that pays you per mile, this method doesn’t necessarily mean that you get paid for each mile that you drive. Some companies pay you to go from zip code to zip code, this means that you could drive 600 miles in one day but only be paid for 500 miles or so. You generally want to avoid these companies as they are only looking out for themselves and try to get the most money out of you that they can.

Training/Trucking School

If you have decided to become a trucker and didn’t know where to start, you need to go to trucking school. You will learn the ins and outs of what it means to be a trucker and how to perform your job safely. Understand that you will be operating a substantial piece of machinery that has the potential to seriously injure or kill someone if you can’t properly control it. Truck driving school generally costs anywhere from $3,000-$7,000 dollars if the school is independently owned, but if you don’t have the funds, it isn’t the end of the world. Many trucking companies offer to pay for you to go to trucking school or even have their own schools to teach up and coming semi truck drivers how to operate the vehicles and teach them all the laws and regulations they need to follow. If you choose to go this route, make sure you research the company beforehand because you will have to work for them at least 1 year as part of repaying the cost of your education. You won’t make as much money this year because they will take a cut of your salary. After this first year though, you will have plenty of opportunities to significantly increase your earnings.

Types of Licensing Available + Perks of Each

When you go to trucking school, you will have the option to get one of three CDL (Commercial Driver License). Note that although some metrics say that you can drive and make money without having a CDL, that isn’t legal and no reputable company is going to hire you without one not to mention people with a CDL make much more money than those without one.

Back to the different classes of license that you can get, your choices are a Class A license, a Class B license, or a Class C license. Alright, if you want to know what each of them allows you to haul, look it up,

I’m kidding, of course, a Class A license allows a driver to haul weight of 26,001 lbs. or more. The driver can tow a vehicle that exceeds 10,000 lbs.

A driver can haul up to 10,000 lbs with a Class B license when towing or driving a single vehicle with a GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) of 26,001 or more.

A driver can transport HAZMAT material with a Class C license, this license can also mean transporting at least 16 passengers (a bus, for example).

Deciding on what license to get largely depends on what job you are aiming to do. If you are only trying to become a bus driver, then all you need to get is a Class C license, but for practically anything else you will need to have a Class B or even Class A license.

Company Driver vs. Owner Operator

After getting your CDL from trucking school, you probably won’t have the choice of becoming an independent owner-operator for the first year because you most likely had a company pay your tuition. After this first year, however, you have the option of becoming your own boss. If you are seriously considering becoming an owner-operator, there are a few things that need to be considered.

I’ll summarize that article here if you don’t want to read through the entire thing (but I highly suggest you do as it’ll give some valuable insight into the type of commitment required to drive your own truck). Being an owner-operator means that you won’t have anyone looking over your shoulder to make sure you are putting in the requisite work to be successful. It all comes down to you and your abilities to manage your finances and time. This extra freedom is a blessing to some and a curse to others. In the end, you have the chance to make much more money than you would if you were a company driver even when you factor in the cost of maintaining your truck.

Being a company driver is by no means a wrong path to set down either, you will have a reasonable income and a secure job. Not to mention you won’t have to bear the stress associated with the extra work of truck maintenance and management or finances and other obligations. As you gain more experience, you will slowly start to make more money.

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