One of the most common questions we are asked is how long it will take to transport a customer’s freight from origin to destination.
As is common in the trucking industry, the correct answer is, “It depends.”
When dealing with as many variables as we do in the trucking industry, it’s hard to give a firm answer as to when things will happen and how long they will take.
That said, at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), we have nearly 70 years of experience moving freight. Over the years, we’ve developed an educated guess about how long it will take to move your freight — a guess that accounts for as many variables as possible.
If you’re wondering how far a trucker can drive in one day, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to discover what impacts the number of miles a driver can cover each day, how the shipper can increase the daily distance, and of course an estimate of how far a driver is allowed to drive in one day.
How Many Hours Can a Truck Driver Drive?
Drivers are not limited by the number of miles they can drive per day. They are limited by the number of hours they spend behind the wheel and doing other related tasks during their day.
The Hours of Service regulations set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) include:
- 11-Hour Driving Limit: a driver is allowed to drive a maximum of 11 hours in one day. They can restart after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- 14-Hour Limit: a driver cannot drive after they have been on duty for 14 straight hours. This includes their 11 hours of drive time, plus any time spent loading and unloading, sitting in traffic and on breaks.
- 10-Hour Break: after 14 hours on duty or 11 hours of driving (whichever comes first), a driver must take a break for at least 10 consecutive hours. This break can be in the sleeper berth or outside of the truck.
- 30-Minute Driving Break: after eight consecutive hours of driving, a driver must take a 30-minute break.
- 60-Hour Limit: a driver may not drive after 60 hours on duty in seven consecutive days. After 60 hours in seven days, they must take a break of at least 34 consecutive hours.
- 70-Hour Limit: similar to the 60-hour limit, a driver may not drive after 70 hours on duty in eight consecutive days. They can start this period again following 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
Drivers use electronic logs to track the amount of time they spend driving each day. Responsible drivers take these limits seriously and do not try to break any of these safety regulations.
These limits are the single most important factor that determines how many miles a driver can travel in one day. We’re almost ready to answer the big question.
How Far Do Truckers Drive in a Day?
At the maximum, a driver can spend 11 hours a day driving. If they were traveling at 65 miles per hour all day, that’s 715 miles. (Many trucking companies use “governors” which stop the driver from going more than 65 mph.)
So that’s 715 miles per day. Easy, right?
Not exactly. Most of the time, the driver is not on an interstate highway going 65 mph all day. They are in cities and towns, slowing down for lights, traffic, etc. When all this is accounted for, we find that drivers average more like 50 mph.
So 50 miles per hour times 11 hours. 550 miles.
Close. When accounting for traffic, load/unload time and other variables, most drivers travel about 500 miles per day.
What Does a Truck Driver Do In A Day?
Drivers spend the majority of their day driving. However, they have non-driving duties that must be done within their daily 14 hours on duty.
- Pre-trip inspection
- Planning their route
- Fueling up
- Waiting for the truck to be loaded and unloaded
- Tarping and securing freight
- Training other drivers
- Ongoing training
Keep in mind that drivers usually aren’t paid for these tasks. Most drivers are paid by the mile, not time spent doing these necessary tasks. The accessorial charges sometimes imposed on non-driving tasks help the driver recover some income, but ultimately they cause unavoidable delays in a driver’s day.
Related Content: How Does a Trucking Company Determine Your Shipment's Route
What Delays Truck Drivers?
There are some circumstances that make it difficult or impossible for a driver to travel 500 miles in a day.
Load Times and Paperwork
Load and unload times are a frequent slowdown for drivers. Typically, drivers plan to spend about 2 hours at each site waiting for the truck to be loaded or unloaded. If it takes longer, that’s lost time.
Every minute a driver spends at your site is burnt from their 14 hours of on-duty time. Even though they aren’t moving, they are on the clock. Tarping, floor loading, waiting for someone to find paperwork and other delays mean the driver is less likely to hit their daily mileage goal.
The driver’s 11- and 14-hour limits include all time they’re behind the wheel, regardless of whether they’re hauling freight. If the driver has to travel to your location, that is time burned not getting freight closer to its destination.
Drivers often “bounce” (drive with an empty trailer or no trailer to their destination) about 75 miles on average. That’s an hour and a half lost from their day.
As a shipper, you can help mitigate this bounce time.
- Give the carrier a flexible window of arrival time, which may help them source a truck closer to your location — leading to less bounce time.
- If possible, allow your driver to overnight onsite. This lets them start their clock at your location, leaving plenty of time to load the truck without burning hours.
An uncontrollable variable, especially in a country as large as ours, is weather. Icy and snowy roads will cause a driver to drive more slowly (or even stop) for the safety of themselves, the freight and everyone else on the road.
Even if it’s 70 degrees and sunny in your location, you can be impacted if the driver is coming from a wintery area.
Weather delays can last minutes, hours or even days (in the case of severe storms). There’s no way to work around or mitigate the impact of weather delays.
Similar to traffic, time spent waiting for road construction is time that counts as driving without actually moving forward.
Remember that most drivers aren’t local to your area. If you can provide tips for avoiding construction, that can help the driver save a significant amount of time.
Typically, larger cities with more traffic will mean slower travel. Drivers will try to avoid cities during regular commuter hours, but sometimes, those delays have to be endured.
Less intuitively, freight traveling in the eastern part of the U.S. is less likely to travel at a steady 50 mph. Older infrastructure, more compact roads and greater population density mean more stopping and starting and fewer opportunities to get up to speed.
In the West, it’s another story. Newer, wider roads, fewer drivers and more space between cities means a driver may exceed the 500-mile-a-day average.
These limits apply to legal freight. Over-dimensional loads will travel more slowly in nearly all circumstances.
Larger permitted freight has several extra restrictions, which means it often travels slower than legal freight.
Some of the factors that can impact oversize freight are:
- Restricted Travel Hours. In many states, OD freight can only travel during daylight hours — and not at all on holidays and weekends
- Less Direct Routes. Bridge heights and other restrictions may require oversize freight to travel on side roads or other slower routes.
- Escorts. In some jurisdictions, loads larger than a certain size must travel with an escort vehicle. While the escort can also make good time, traveling with an additional vehicle will slow things down.
No matter the size of your freight, it’s important to work with your transportation carrier to understand the estimated timing of your haul. They may also be able to make suggestions to help your freight travel more quickly and smoothly.
What Else to Consider When Planning Shipping Timelines
The number we provided above is our goal under normal circumstances. But if you’ve been in the transportation industry for any amount of time, you know there are many variables — plus, things don’t always go as planned.
What If My Freight Needs to Travel More Than 500 Miles in a Day?
If a critical load absolutely needs to travel more than 500 miles in one day, the most effective solution is team drivers.
As the name implies, “team drivers” are two drivers who work together. Both are Class-A CDL licensed, and they can alternate driving to keep the truck moving during required breaks.
It’s important to note that team drivers still have rest periods when the truck isn’t moving (11 hours for Driver A + 11 hours for Driver B = 22 hours, not 24). But that’s still twice as much drive time in a day … and more opportunity to drive 1,000 miles that day.
Of course, team drivers come with a (literal) cost. Expect to pay 30-40 percent more for a team driver load.
While team drivers are the only way to get 1,000 miles in a day, there are some smaller ways to help your driver maximize their allowed drive time.
How to Move Your Freight Farther, Faster
The more time a driver can spend on the road, the faster your cargo will move (and the happier the driver will be — they get into the profession because they love driving).
- Prepare Before the Driver Arrives. Time spent waiting for your freight to be organized, waiting for someone to find paperwork and waiting for your crew to return from a break is time burned off the driver’s hours without moving the load forward.
While it’s inevitable that loading will take some time, being prepared right away will speed things along.
On another note, if you can allow the driver access to your amenities, that’s one less stop they have to make. It’s not an official break, but drivers are human and also have human needs.
- Know Your Network. The closer you are to the driver’s last destination or to their domicile, the less time they burn getting to your location.
This is another area where flexibility can make a big difference. If your load can wait until tomorrow when the driver has more of their 11 hours of driving left, that may save you time (and money) in the long term.
- Consider the Variables. If weather or road construction will cause significant delays, communicate that with your carrier as soon as possible.
In case of severe weather, they might plan to move your freight before or after the storm — even if that means bringing it to a warehousing facility until your customer is ready.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate: Communication is critical in the trucking industry. Your carrier will use the information they have to plan the most efficient route and shipment.
Information that will be helpful include, dates, times, dimensions, type of cargo, piece count, exact address and how the freight will be loaded and unloaded. There’s no benefit to holding back, and providing clear written communication will always help you.
Sharing your expectations and information with your carrier will help them plan the best route possible. This planning and preparation will maximize the number of miles your freight can travel in one day.
How Far Can Truckers Drive in a Day?
The ATS team generally plans for a driver to travel 500 miles each day. This estimate accounts for federal drive time restrictions and other key factors that can slow a driver down, like loading time, deadheading and more.
Shippers can help increase the number of miles traveled each day by using team drivers, or by taking a few simple steps to maximize the driver’s time — like being prepared, being flexible and communicating with the carrier.
Of course, choosing a reliable driver is another way to get the most from your driving day (and dollar). Download the Freight Carrier Selection Checklist to vet potential carriers and find one that meets your specific needs, or read more tips on vetting potential carriers. When you’re ready to start working with a carrier, contact the ATS team.