In the trucking business, mileage is money—the more road you cover, the more freight you can haul (and the bigger your bank account). Of course, there are a thousand factors that limit a driver’s daily mileage. Safety is the first priority, as evidenced by iron-clad Hours of Service rules. But drivers also have duties beyond driving—and you can never predict delays at the dock.
All that adds up to create uncertainty for fleet owners and owner-operators alike. It also leads to questions—not just about daily limits, but about setting mileage goals that optimize profitability:
- How many miles can a truck driver drive per day?
- How frequently should you take breaks when driving long distances?
- How do you calculate daily mileage when running income projections for your business?
Here are a few guidelines that can help you answer that core operational question: “How far can truck drivers drive in one day?” Even better, these tips will help you set realistic daily mileage goals for your operation.
How Hours Of Service Rules Affect Daily Mileage
The authority for U.S. trucking is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). While FMCSA doesn’t set a mileage limit for property-carrying drivers, Hours of Service Regulations effectively cap how far you can go in a shift. The relevant driving limits include:
|Hours of Service Regulations—A Summary|
|Drivers can only drive up to 11 hours within a given shift. A new shift only begins when the driver has had 10 consecutive off-duty hours. After eight hours of driving, drivers must take a 30-minute break. These hours are cumulative, so if you drive six hours, then stop for 10 minutes and drive another two, you still have to take that 30-minute break. (This rule answers the question, “How frequently should you take breaks when driving long distances?” According to the FMCSA, it’s at least every eight hours.) Once a shift begins, drivers have a 14-hour window in which they can drive. This limit co-exists with the 11-hour cap. If your shift begins with four hours at the dock, then, you can only drive for 10 hours during that shift. (This starts to explain the value of drop-and-hook trucking, since it can help reduce or eliminate dock time.) Within any consecutive seven-day period, drivers are limited to 60 hours of driving. In an eight-day period, that limit is 70 hours of driving. These working weeks restart only after 34 consecutive off-duty hours.|
There are other Hours of Service rules, but those above cover most situations. If you know how many hours you can drive—and your average rate of speed during those hours—it should be easy to calculate how many miles you can cover in a day. But in the real world, things aren’t so simple.
Calculating How Far Truck Drivers Can Travel Per Day
The formula for calculating daily mileage in the trucking industry is pretty straightforward.
|To calculate daily mileage:|
|Hours of driving ✕ speed (in miles per hour) = total miles covered|
Hypothetically, let’s take a best-case scenario for maximizing mileage per shift. Say a driver starts the shift with a load ready to go, so there’s no dock time in the shift. This driver has 14 hours to fit in 11 hours of travel; that should be enough for breaks and a pre-shift inspection, so let’s say the driver can devote all 11 hours to driving. Assume an average speed of 60 miles per hour.
That driver would cover 660 miles that day. (Really it’s that shift, which may not correspond to a calendar day—but we’ll assume our driver’s starting out early in the morning.)
Now assume the driver spends three hours at the shipping dock and another three at the receiving dock, all within the same 14-hour shift. Now they’re down to just eight hours of driving, and can only drive 480 miles in a day, assuming an average speed of 60 miles per hour.
Different trucking companies will set different goals. If you drive strictly over-the-road routes, going from coast to coast, you may expect more daily mileage than a short-hauler with lots of dock time on either end of the trip. If you do team trucking, you can greatly extend the amount of time that truck spends in motion.
But for the general fleet owner, with a mix of clients and routes, we’d recommend starting your calculations at around 400 to 500 miles per shift. That range offers a good mix of productivity and compliance with CSA safety rules—and answers both our questions about how far a driver can (and should) drive during a day, and how to maximize safety and driver alertness in accordance with Hours of Service regulations.
Weekly Mileage Goals For Trucking Company Management
Maybe the real question isn’t “How many miles can a truck driver drive per day?” so much as “How can I safely and sustainably maximize profits for my trucking company?” To answer that question, you need to plan beyond the shift.
Fleet operators think in terms of capacity: Do they have the truck and driver available to bid on that next job? And when you’re planning for multiple trucks across broad time spans, it’s wise to consider the mileage you expect your trucks to travel in a given week, not just one day.
A good starting metric for weekly mileage is around 2,000 miles per truck.
That gives you the freedom to offer two days off in a row to drivers. It doesn’t assume peak performance with every shift. And if you figure you’re charging 50 cents per mile, it offers a tidy weekly income of $1,000 per week, per truck.
Of course, that’s not all profit. But if you project a yearly income of $52,000 per truck, you can offer competitive salaries and benefits packages that keep drivers happy while maintaining profitability for your business. Speaking of profitability, there’s one more budget consideration every trucking business owner must consider: cash flow.
Maintaining Cash Flow In The Trucking Industry
You know what they say about the best-laid plans. Even if you always hit your daily and weekly mileage goals, line up steady work throughout the year, and avoid unnecessary downtime (and everything else goes smoothly), you might run into a budget snag.
That’s because, in the trucking industry, brokers and shippers often operate on net-30 or even net-60 terms. In other words, they don’t have to pay their invoices for weeks. That can lead to cash flow shortfalls. The solution to trucking cash flow is a financial service called factoring.
When you factor an invoice, Bobtail steps in to get you your money immediately. We buy the invoice from you and collect from the broker or shipper who hired you. That gets you cash now for a low fee (just 1.99% to 2.99% of the invoice value, depending on the size of your company). There are no contracts, hidden fees, or bureaucratic rigamarole; you just upload a bill of lading and rate confirmation to our easy-to-use mobile app, and the money shows up in your account the same day (or the next day, if it’s after 11 a.m.)
If we’re right that the question “How many miles can a truck driver drive per day” is really just a roundabout way of asking how to keep your trucking company profitable, factoring with Bobtail is part of the answer.
Ready to see how simple factoring can be with Bobtail? Try it for free for a month.