How To Become A Truck Driver
When researching how to become a truck driver, it's important to first understand the basic requirements and then what's expected after you meet the minimum requirements as well as the most frequently asked questions. We created the ultimate guide for you to better understand how to become a truck driver and also how the economics of the business work:
How To Become A Truck Driver
When evaluating whether or not you want to become a truck driver, it's important to understand whether or not you see yourself in this career short term or long term, whether or not you want to run your own business one day, or whether you just want to work for a larger, more established corporation. As a good rule of thumb, a good list of questions to ask yourself before becoming a truck driver are the following:
- Do I like the idea being on the road driving for the vast majority of my week?
- Do I enjoy driving for long periods of time or shorter periods of time?
- Is the money I earn per mile worth the work?
- Do I want to go through the process of earning my CDL license and then applying to a new job?
- How many realistic hours can I dedicate to driving?
- What kind of commercial motor vehicle should I operate?
How Much Do Truck Drivers Make?
After you've asked yourself those questions and you're still interested in becoming a truck driver, you should have a basic understanding of how much truck drivers make and how the pay works. Unlike many other industries, truck drivers are paid per mile, not by the hour. The reason for this is because you are paid for performance - if the wheels aren't turning, you are not getting paid. It's important to note, that because you are paid per mile, you will not be paid for the following:
- Sitting in traffic jams
- Waiting on customs / borders
- Performing a vehicle inspection
- Waiting for repairs
Our experts say that during a 70-80 work week, roughly 10-15 hours will be unpaid due to performing these activities.
On average, truck drivers are paid $.28 to $.40 per mile. If you are an experienced driver, you can earn up to $.40 to $.45 per mile - it's important to note that this number can vary wildly depending on the type of truck you're driving, the type of freight you are hauling, and the type of driving you are doing (locale, regional, or national). Most drivers will complete between 2,000 to 3,000 miles a week, but you have the ability to drive more if you have the time. Driving 2,000 to 3,000 miles a week equates to roughly $560 to $1,200 a week - this would mean that a truck driver completing between 2,000 to 3,000 miles a week would also earn between $29,120 and $62,400 a year. To help illustrate how much you can potentially make, here's a table you can reference, taking $.35 cents per mile as the baseline (this is likely entry pay):
|Miles Driven Per Week||Cents Per Mile||Weekly Earnings||Annual Earnings|
As you can see, the more miles driven at an average cents per mile pay of $.35, you can earn upwards of $70,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for truck drivers in 2020 was $39,520. The bottom 10% of truck drivers earned a median of $25,750, while the top 10% of commercial truck drivers brought home a median of $61,150. A $.35 cents per mile base pay range is fairly common for new drivers, and the number has increasingly risen over the years and should be higher for more established companies or if you decide to become a particular type of truck driver (i.e. drivers that haul hazardous materials get paid a significantly higher cent per mile).
Be sure to check out our guide on how much do truck drivers make if you have more questions as the wages differ by state and the type of vehicle you plan to operate. The table above reflects a very basic breakdown of potential earnings of a truck driver, many truck drivers actually make significantly more as they have a higher cent per mile rate (due to experience, job negotiation, or company) as well as other bonuses or benefits.
Best States For Truck Drivers?
Currently, in the US, the best states to earn the most from being a truck driver is South Dakota (+25% above the national average salary). In addition, Kansas, North Dakota, and Nebraska are all above the average across the US. California is about the same as the national average while states like Maine, Alabama, and Indiana are all below the national average salary.
At TruckerExperts, we did a state by state breakdown of how much you can make per state.
Types of Truck Driving Jobs:
|Type of Driver||
Example Goods Being Transported
|Dry Van Drivers||Dry Goods, Non-Perishable Items||Yes|
|Tanker Drivers||Liquids, Hazardous Materials||Yes|
|Flat Bed Drivers||
Transport vehicle, Large Items
|Refrigerated Freight Drivers||Medical Supplies, Food, Meat,||Yes|
|Freight Haulers/Drivers||Oversized, Hazardous, Liquid||Yes|
|LTL Freight Drivers||Smaller Shipments (LTL = Less Than Truckload)||Yes|
|Local Drivers||All types.||Sometimes|
While you're thinking about what it takes to become a truck driver, you'll have to also think about the type of trucker driver you want to become. OTR stands for over-the-road trucking which means you are hauling freight across state lines or long-haul drivers. Dry Van, Tanker, Flat bed, freight can all be OTR drivers.
Almost all drivers require a CDL license, if you want to learn more about the different types of classifications for a CDL license, you can read more about the different types of CDL licenses.
Now that you have a better understanding of the questions you should ask yourself before deciding to become a truck driver, as well as the how much they earn and the types of drivers, you now need to follow these simple three steps before you can become an actual truck driver.
Steps On How To Become A Truck Driver:
- Step 1: Meet The Basic Requirements
- Step 2: Obtain a CDL License
- Step 3: Find The Best Trucking Companies To Work For
Step 1: You first need to meet the basic requirements to become a professional truck driver
In order to drive a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) and be hired by a professional company in the trucking space, you need to meet the basic minimum requirements:
- Be at least 21 years old.
- Clean driving record history and non-problematic work history
- Pass a drug and alcohol test
- Undergo a physical
The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires all potential professional truck drivers who drive across state lines to be at least 21 years old. You can obtain a CDL at the age of 18, but you will be limited to driving intrastate (only within your own state). Almost all reputable trucking companies only hire CDL holders who are 21 years and oder.
In addition, almost all trucking companies must have a clean driving record. Often times, if you have a prior DUI offense, you may be ineligible to even apply to specific companies. Often times, the requirements vary state by state. After confirming that you have a clean background, trucking companies will require you to earn a CDL (step 2) and also pass a drug and alcohol test along with a physical.
Step 2: You must obtain a CDL license
To earn a CDL, you will have to attend a truck driving school, pass a drug and alcohol test, undergo a physical and more. A CDL is a commercial driver's license. Most states allow you to obtain a CDL at the age of 18. However, most trucking companies prefer to hire drivers that are 21 years or older.
Obtaining a CDL requires you to attend a truck riving school or a community college. Programs at trucking school programs typically last about 3-4 weeks. In comparison, if you try and earn a CDL at a community college, it could last up to 6-8 weeks.
When earning your CDL, it will require you to sit in classrooms as well as do some behind-the-wheel training, not different to earning your normal driver's license. At the end oft he program, you will be required to pass a knowledge-based exam and skills test. Road test, basic controls, and vehicle inspection are the three pillars of the knowledge based exam.
Lastly, documentation varies by state in order to finalize getting your CDL. Most states require the following:
- Valid Driver's License (non-commercial)
- Birth Certified or US Passpoart
- Green Card (if you are not an American citizen)
- Social Security Card or Social Security Number
- Passing a Background Test
- Undergo a physical
Keep in mind, it's better to understand the full picture on the different types of enhancements you can have on your CDL license once you feel you are qualified. If you're still asking yourself "what is a cdl license?" - it's probably worth it to do a deeper dive into the requirements. Typically, the entire training process can take a few months and some companies will pay you while you are training.
Step 3: Find a truck driving job
After you have earned your CDL and passed all the basic requirements, you will now be able to apply to a variety of truck driving jobs. Almost all companies you apply for will require you to pass a drug test as well as passing a background job. Some jobs will pay for your CDL training and in return, you are obligated to drive for that company for a set period of time.
If you want to learn more about what to do next after you have earned your CDL, be sure to brush up on the highest paying truck companies to work for in 2021.
Is it possible to make money while getting your CDL?
Training for your CDL typically takes a few months, and yes, you can make some money while getting your CDL. Many companies, especially the large trucking companies will pay you while you are in training. Keep in mind, many companies will also pay for your CDL training, in exchange, they often require you to drive with their company for a minimum amount of time (6 months to 2 years depending on the company).
How much free time do you have as a truck driver?
2-4 hours a day is typically the amount of free time a truck driver has. This number also depends on the type of job you have. If you are driving local, it will depend on your commute and routes. OTR driving will depend on how big and busy your company is. With that being said, our experts say 10 hours a day of driving is a reasonable expectation during a 14-15 hour period.
Do night truck drivers make more?
This also depends. Companies really love when you opt-in for the night shifts. as a driver, you typically don't deal with customers that are sometimes a hassle and they often times pay a good amount for taking the night shift. Experience level is moderate to beginner before you can get this job.
What is the best company to work for?
This is highly dependent on the type of job/life you want. Some people might say that a company which makes them drive a lot of miles. Others might want more time to stop, rest and relax. Some people might like a company which sends them to all 48 states while others really hate some regions. It's best to do your research, understand what type of job you're looking for, and look for a job that allows you to spend time with your family and friends.
Do truck drivers have access to wifi?
This is usually hit or miss. Some truck stops have wifi, however, it's typically not reliable. Cell service can be spotty depending on your location. Most truck drivers use a mobile hotspot or purchase a mobile hotspot and pay for the data.
What is the best paying trucking job?
Usually, the best paying jobs involve hauling nuclear or hazardous waste. These are jobs that are typically hard to get due to the substantial raise in pay and experience required. A good rule of thumb is that the more specialized your job, the more money you typically make. So a standard local driver will likely make the least while someone that travels across the country carrying hazardous or hazmat materials will generally make the most.
Do trucking companies allow dogs?
Some trucking companies allow dogs, so it's important to do your research prior to selecting a company if this is important to you.