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.
The need for truck drivers isn’t going away any time soon. Whether you’re interested in learning how to become a trucker and making it your career—or you simply want to know what it takes to spend most of your working hours on the road—here’s everything you need to know about truck driving.
What Are the Typical Responsibilities of a Truck Driver?
Transporting freight in a semi-truck may appear to be a simple job, but it involves more responsibilities and expectations than most people know.
Truck drivers 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 truck drivers 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.
Here are some of the other typical duties and responsibilities of truck drivers:
- 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
Personal and Critical Skills for Truck Driving
Besides formal training, you will need to possess certain personal skills to become a truck driver. The job is not as easy as it seems. Having the right tools, skills, and personal qualities will make you a better candidate for the job and increase your success in the field.
Some of the qualities every suitable trucker needs are:
- Ability to See: 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.
- Sound Hearing: Federal regulations state that truck drivers should hear a harsh whisper from five feet away with or without a hearing aid.
- Good Physical Health: 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.
- Hand-Eye Coordination: 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.
- Mental Toughness: It takes a lot of mental toughness to spend long hours on highways, sometimes for days or weeks at a time. Between loneliness and the monotony of driving, being a trucker can be tricky unless you can manage and overcome stress and worries.
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. First, you should have a standard driver’s license from your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and a clean record. If you expect to operate an oversized truck, you must first have enough skills to drive a regular-sized car.
Next, you should have at least a high school diploma or GED. Though certificates of completion are ideal, they aren’t expressly necessary, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A college education is not a requirement on your path to truck driving, but other specialized education will be necessary.
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.
Licenses and Certifications
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 commercial driver’s 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.
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.
Average Training and Education Costs
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 for CDL education 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 commercial driving 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.
Career Outlook for Truck Driving
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. The industry is forecast to grow by about 2% between now and 2029.
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.
Pros and Cons of Being a Truck Driver
Every profession has its ups and downs. Here are some of the pros and cons of truck driving to consider before you decide to leap into a new career.
- 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
Ready to Take Your Truck Driving Career on the Road?
Learning how to become a truck driver and making it your career requires specialized training, licensing, and long hours on the road. However, you will get paid to see the country and play a crucial role in meeting the demands for consumer goods.
At Blue Collar Brain, we understand that trucking isn’t for everyone, but we hope this truck driving guide will help you determine if this path is right for you. If not, we offer other employment overviews for careers that don’t require college degrees. Visit us today to learn more about quality trade jobs.
*Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics