You see them all the time. Heavy-duty and tractor-trailer trucks are everywhere, carrying goods from city to city and state to state. Here’s what you should know if you think driving a truck for a living, as you pick up and deliver goods, might be the career for you.
The United States economy is dependent on truck transportation. Skilled truck drivers are integral to maintain the flow of supply chains and help various companies meet the consumer demand for goods. Truck driving is an honorable, necessary profession—but not everyone can handle the job.
If you are a person who would rather work alone – we actually added this career to our list of the best jobs for introverts! So if people are not your thing, this is a great job option. You can also check out our full list of skilled trade careers if you need more career ideas!
What Does A Truck Driver Do?
Transporting freight in a semi-truck may appear to be a simple job, but it involves more responsibilities and expectations than most people know.
A professional truck driver will have an immense responsibility for moving freight from one location to another in an oversized vehicle with a weight exceeding 26,000 pounds. They not only have to protect themselves, the truck, and their haul while driving, but they also have to maintain a schedule and adhere to strict deadlines.
The drivers usually receive their orders from a company dispatcher, who will map out and relay the best route for the delivery or pickup. Some truckers operate independently instead of working with a company. In these cases, the driver will plan out their routes, including legally-mandated rest periods, while keeping in mind various road restrictions against heavy-duty trucks.
While transporting freight, truck drivers must stay vigilant and adhere to all traffic laws and regulations, even if they vary from state to state. They also have to carry specialized equipment to handle roadside incidents like accidents or vehicle breakdowns.
Some truck drivers must haul dangerous or hazardous materials like chemical waste, so they encounter additional rules they have to follow to maintain safety standards. Other regulations will apply to truck drivers who transport liquids, cars, or oversized loads.
Below are some other typical duties and responsibilities:
- Maintain vehicle’s cleanliness and functionality
- Make minor truck repairs
- Fill out and maintain driving logs for pickups and deliveries according to federal law
- Maintain necessary licenses and certifications
- Keep cargo secure at all times
- Report all incidents that occur during their drive
Related: Dot vs Non-Dot Drug Testing
How to Become a Truck Driver
Before you can begin the process of becoming a truck driver, you have to have a few things in order.
- Driver’s license from your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
- Clean driving record
- High school diploma or GED
If you are serious about truck driving and want to make it your career, you will need to attend a vocational or private training school to learn the profession’s ins and outs. Schooling can last for a couple of months to a year, depending on the institution and the type of licensing you want to hold.
Once you complete your education, you’ll need to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Passing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation exam is also a must. Before you get your CDL, you can get a Commercial Learner’s Permit while you train with an experienced truck driver.
Here are some additional details about each step to becoming a truck driver.
Though federal regulations do not mandate truck drivers to hold a high school diploma, many private logistics companies require that their truckers have the documentation. You should also attend a professional truck driving school. In some areas, truck driving regulations require all drivers to complete courses from an accredited community college, vocational school, or private institution for training.
Even if your jurisdiction doesn’t have an educational requirement, it’s still a good idea to complete training courses. During your specialized education, you will undergo in-depth learning about federal laws and regulations governing interstate truck driving.
The classes will also teach you how to drive heavy-duty commercial vehicles and care for various types of cargo. Skilled instructors and a specialized curriculum will prepare you for your CDL exam.
Some trucking companies offer their own training programs specific to their employees’ jobs and responsibilities. However, having a diploma or certificate of completion from an independent trucking school will make you a more appealing, better-prepared truck driver candidate for these companies.
You’ll likely spend several weeks doing on-the-job training after you accept your new trucking job. You will drive trucks on a designated route with an experienced trucker in your passenger seat during this time. Your hands-on training will provide more information about the type of truck you’ll drive and the materials you’ll transport.
Certifications & Licensing
Every long-haul trucker must hold a CDL according to their state’s Department of Motor Vehicle qualifications. CDL requirements usually include both knowledge and driving tests. The DMV can refuse to issue a CDL if you have a suspended license in another state. States also require medical certificates for CDLs.
You can add an endorsement to your commercial license as a display of your skills or expertise in driving specialized trucks or equipment. For instance, you can obtain a HAZMAT (H) endorsement if you intend to haul hazardous materials. Endorsements require additional testing and, in most cases, a background check.
You can attain three CDL Classes, each of which allows you to drive specific types of vehicles for various industries.
- Class A: As the most comprehensive commercial driver’s license, this classification allows you to drive vehicles over 26,001 pounds with a towed vehicle over 10,000 pounds. These vehicles include tractor-trailers, flatbeds, and big rigs.
- Class B: You can drive a vehicle exceeding 26,001 pounds with this license, but all towed vehicles must be less than 10,000 pounds. The classification may require additional endorsements. With a Class B CDL, you can drive segmented buses, dump trucks, and passenger busses.
- Class C: The final CDL classification is the most specific. It’s necessary for carrying 16 or more passengers or hazardous materials. With a Class C license, you can operate passenger vehicles, HAZMAT vehicles, and anything else you cannot drive under Class A or Class B licensing.
You can see the latest Entry-Level Driving Training requirements on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website.
As a truck driver, you’ll be responsible for the care of a heavy-duty vehicle and valuable cargo. Anyone who hires you or your third-party logistics company will want to ensure that whoever is hauling their goods is a good driver with a reputable character.
A clean record is an unspoken requirement for trucking. Most trucking companies conduct background checks before hiring you. They likely want your criminal history to be void of serious charges that could conflict with your job and responsibilities.
The company will also likely pull your driving record to ensure that you don’t have frequent auto accidents or violations. If you’ve had several collisions, potential employers may not deem you trustworthy enough to handle a tractor-trailer full of products.
To become a truck driver, you will need to have an up-to-date physical on file with the Department of Transportation (DOT). Before you get an official trucking job, you’ll also have to undergo a DOT pre-employment drug test.
It is important to add that every company has their own requirements as well. Becoming a UPS truck driver for example may be a different process than working for Yellow Freight trucking company.
Truck Driving Schools
Training to become a truck driver is an investment in your future. As such, formal CDL training and education will come at a cost.
The average cost of a truck driving school can range from $3,000 to $7,000. The actual charge will vary by state and the institution you choose for training. Factors that affect the price of your CDL training include:
- The depth of the program, including the classroom time and time spent on driving
- Lodging and amenities if you can’t commute to the school from home
- The school’s reputation for producing quality truckers and a strong job placement record
The CDL license cost varies by state and may include additional fees for endorsements and road test. The type of CDL you want will also affect the cost of your schooling. Class A, Class B, and Class C licenses each require specific training courses and may affect the overall training cost.
Recommended Skills For Truck Drivers
Visual tests are necessary for a trucking career. According to federal regulations, drivers must have at least 20/40 vision with a 70-degree field of vision in both eyes. The ability to distinguish between the different traffic light colors is also a must.
Federal regulations state that drivers should hear a harsh whisper from five feet away with or without a hearing aid.
Unfortunately, you cannot become a truck driver if you have a medical condition like epilepsy or hypertension. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration outlines several medical conditions that could impede driving and disqualify you from operating a long-haul truck.
Driving a heavy-duty vehicle is not like driving a small car. You have to know how to move your hands, eyes, and legs to operate the vehicle safely and react quickly to situations around you.
Pros & Cons Of Being A Truck Driver
Every job has benefits and drawbacks here are some for being a truck driver.
- Decent entry-level pay
- Steady pay while traveling the country
- Solitary work with minimal supervision
- Possible employer-covered CDL school tuition
- Secure job industry
- Potential loneliness – but you can always get a trucker cat to get rid of the loneliness!
- May be away from home for weeks at a time
- Stress from long-haul driving, including issues with traffic, delays, and tight deadlines
- Irregular sleep patterns
How Much Do Truck Drivers Make?
As of 2020, the median annual salary for a truck driver was $47,130.
The median salary reflects that 50% of people who work in this career earn more than this amount, and 50% earn less.
Truck Driver Job Outlook
Growth/Decline Percentage: 6% increase from 2020 to 2030*
General Outlook: Very Good
The job outlook for trucking is relatively strong. Truck drivers are always in high demand, and their skills are necessary for maintaining a strong economy.
Job growth for truckers may be slower than in other careers, but it is steady. As a result, it does provide some security for anyone looking for a long-term job.
Some segments of the trucking industry currently have a shortage of qualified drivers. The lack of workers means more opportunities for new drivers. Older, more experienced truckers often retire from the field, leaving more room for new hires.