What is a Truck Driver and What Do They Do?

Truck driving is an exciting career that sure beats sitting at a desk all day. Due to many perks of this career, truck drivers make up one of the largest professions in the country. In fact, the United States Census Bureau recently reported that well over 3 million people currently work as truck drivers, reaching an all-time high. Truck driving is often referred to as a lifestyle job. Many truck drivers spend most of their time by themselves, but the amount of alone time depends on whether they drive shorter or long-haul routes and a few other factors.

Steps to Becoming a Truck Driver

A professional truck driver is most known for operating large vehicles, and a formal license is required to perform this job. Despite common belief, they are not necessarily logistics experts, but many of these workers could eventually have the option to move into a logistics position.

Here are the typical responsibilities of a professional truck driver:

  • Transport Cargo:
    One of the primary responsibilities of a professional truck driver is to transport cargo from point A to point B. These workers are also responsible for safely loading and unloading cargo. They should be prepared to drive long distances, always ensuring that the goods are delivered to clients on time. They should safely deliver cargo with exceptional customer service. During the trip, drivers must inspect their vehicle several times to ensure optimal performance. Truck drivers should also keep their truck in top notch condition.
  • Plan Routes:
    Truck drivers are expected to plan routes with the assistance of a team of dispatchers. The route planning process will involve the use of GPS, but they will also keep an eye on developing conditions while they are on the road and may need to make decisions on the fly. Depending on the route, truck drivers may be expected to drive to Mexico and Canada as well as within the U.S. As these workers are planning the routes, they must note the roads with large truck restrictions. They must also incorporate rest time in their trip and follow strict rules about how long they can drive in a day, how much rest time they must get, and where they can park their truck legally and safely.
  • Follow Traffic Laws:
    Truck drivers are expected to obey the rules of the road and observe road conditions such as traffic congestion. If truck drivers encounter a road incident, they must report it to the dispatcher.
  • Maintain Documentation:
    Professional truck drivers are required to document important information including working hours, trailer defects, rest periods, accidents, cargo deliveries, violations, and miles driven.
  • Step 1: Education Requirements

  • Step 2: Internship or Apprentice

  • Step 3: Licensing & Certifications

  • Step 4: Continuing Education and License Maintenance

steps to take truck driver careers

Step 1: Education Requirements

A high school diploma is the primary prerequisite for CDL training. If you don’t have a high school diploma or GED, many companies won’t hire you. With this basic diploma and the fee for a training course, you can enter a CDL program and even earn endorsements.

Generally speaking, prospective truck drivers should have a high school diploma or GED. In high school, potential drivers should consider taking courses in automotive mechanics and driver training.

  • Training:

    A commercial driver’s license or CDL is also required. Prospective drivers can obtain a CDL by going to a private or public truck driver training school. There are also several company sponsored CDL training opportunities available.

    Once you have accepted a position at a company, you’ll also receive significant on-the-job training. During the training, you’ll probably drive a truck with an experienced supervisor. The mentor-driver will teach you the ins and outs of the specific truck you’ll be driving.

    In addition, many employers have continuing education courses that prospective truck drivers need to pass. These training courses may cover company policies and procedures, job responsibilities, and driving regulations as well as how to handle specific cargo if necessary.

  • Licensing:
    All prospective drivers must obtain a CDL by passing a written examination and skills test, demonstrating that they can safely drive a commercial truck. Some trucking companies may require a hazmat endorsement on top of a CDL.
  • Physical:
    Truck driving is a physically demanding career; as a result, truck drivers must pass a Department of Transportation or DOT physical every two years. A DOT physical will assess the overall health and wellbeing of a prospective truck driver, ensuring that they can lift heavy objects and sit for long periods of time. Prospective truck drivers will also need to pass a drug and alcohol test.
  • Excellent Records:
    Since truck drivers will be transporting valuable goods, they need to have an excellent driving record. Truck drivers who have an exceptional driving record can also decrease liability costs for employers. Most employers will also perform background checks on entry-level drivers to ensure that they can be entrusted with valuable cargo.

Step 2: Internship or Apprentice

An internship or apprenticeship can pave the way to a terrific job and, eventually, long-term success. When new drivers are able to build their skills under the tutelage of a seasoned professional, they are sure to enter the job market with proven skills. If an internship or apprenticeship program does not hire their apprentices, they may at least provide letters of reference that will help drivers land great jobs.

In fact, there are apprenticeships available for many types of specialties. For instance, construction truck drivers can hone their skills with an apprenticeship through the Teamsters Union. Such a program is sure to instill trust in potential employers and launch a career that builds long-term success. Programs such as these try to graduate drivers that are skilled at more than just passing their CDL examination.

Thus, drivers who graduate from such thorough apprentice programs are able to negotiate higher salaries since their skills are already proven and confirmed by a trusted organization. There are also other apprentice programs that train drivers for a variety of specific truck driving jobs.

Step 3: Licensing & Certifications

  • CDL

    Prospective truck drivers will need to obtain a CDL or commercial driver’s license. If you are at least 18 years old, most states will allow you to obtain this license, especially if you do not cross state borders. Most trucking companies will only hire truck drivers who are 21 or older, though.

    You will also need the following documentation: unexpired driver’s license issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, social security card or number, valid U.S. passport or birth certificate.

    Before earning a CDL, you will need to get a CLP or commercial learner’s permit. A CLP allows you to operate semi-trucks on the road while being supervised by a qualified CDL holder.

    The next step is to enroll in a CDL program at a community college or truck driving school. Make sure to check with some trucking companies to ensure that a particular truck driving school is valid. After finishing the CDL program, you’ll earn a certificate of completion.

    During the three to six-week program, you will engage in classroom instruction and practical truck driving training. Prospective truck drivers will be taught an extensive array of practical skills including how to drive large trucks on the highway and highly populated streets. Students will also learn the federal laws and regulations regarding truck driving.

    To earn a CDL, you will need to perform well on a knowledge exam and skills test. The written portion of the exam will evaluate your commercial driving knowledge. The skills test will evaluate your knowledge of driving on the road, performing vehicle inspections, and operating basic controls.

    Keep in mind that you will need to meet medical qualifications and pass a background screen before obtaining a CDL.

  • Other Certification

    Truck drivers have the opportunity to broaden their career experience by applying for several endorsements on their CDL. These such endorsements show that truck drivers have the necessary knowledge to drive specialized vehicles. There are several available endorsements that can be attached to a CDL license: Passenger (P), School Bus (S), Tank (T), and hazardous material (H).

    The passenger (P) endorsement is for truck drivers who would like to transport fifteen or more passengers by utilizing airport shuttles, charter busses, or even limousines. The school bus (S) endorsement is required for truck drivers who want to drive a school bus. In most states, truck drivers must receive the ‘P’ endorsement before obtaining the ‘S’ endorsement.

    The tank (T) endorsements enables truck drivers to transport liquid cargo. The hazardous materials (H) endorsement allows truck drivers to operate a vehicle with hazardous materials, such as radioactive substances and flammable liquids. This endorsement requires an extensive background check.

    Regardless of the endorsement that you choose, you’ll need to perform well on a written exam and skills test.

Step 4: Continuing Education and License Maintenance

Many employers provide workshops and seminars for truck drivers, featuring topics like safety protocols and transportation guidelines. Truck drivers can also engage in continuing education through the American Trucking Associations or ATA. The ATA provides workshops covering a wide range of topics such as the legal aspects of truck driving.

Truck drivers should also consider obtaining an associate degree in logistics if they would like to advance into a position in the logistics community. With an associate degree in logistics or related field, truck drivers can also move into another position in their company.

Where Do Truck Drivers Work?

Truck drivers can work for a variety of employers including truck transportation, construction, wholesale trade, and manufacturing interests. Most truck drivers will hold a full-time position. And there are protections in place for them as, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, these workers cannot work more than 14 consecutive hours. Still, prospective truck drivers should be prepared to spend a lot of time by themselves and away from home.

Why Choose This Career?

There are several reasons why people choose to become a truck driver.

  • Great Salary:

    A truck driver’s salary is a great incentive to pursue this career. Companies usually pay truck drivers based on how many miles they have driven. In 2019, truck drivers earned a median annual salary of about $45,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As truck drivers gain more experience, they can receive generous pay raises. Truck drivers may also receive more pay if they are a safe and reliable driver.

    Most truck drivers will also receive an attractive benefits package that includes paid time off, life insurance, healthcare coverage, direct deposit, bonuses, and a retirement plan.

  • Freedom & Flexibility:

    As a truck driver, you’ll be able to say goodbye to long meetings, tedious desk work, and office politics because truck drivers do not have to work 9 to 5. While many companies give truck drivers a timetable for delivering cargo, these workers can make their own hours for getting it to the destination. Many truck drivers enjoy being able to create their own schedule.

    Often times, these workers can also choose what kind of haul they would like to drive. A popular choice is long haul. There are also several positions available for truck driving virtually everywhere.

  • Travel:
    By choosing a long-haul route, truck drivers have the opportunity to see different parts of the country. They can also meet interesting people along the way. Just imagine being able to look out the window to see the Golden Gate Bridge, Kennedy Space Center, Statue of Liberty, and many more attractive sites.
  • Job Security:
    The trucking sector offers optimal job security because the ongoing need for movement of goods. Many studies show that there aren’t enough truck drivers. As a result, you’ll always have a job if you have a few years of driving experience. There are few sectors that provide this type of peace of mind.

Career, Salary and Advancement Outlook

Truck drivers are an essential component of the economy because they transport cargo, ensuring that supply chains run smoothly. Roughly two years ago, these workers held two million jobs. Many experts predict that there will be a steady increase in employment opportunities for truck drivers as the demand for goods rises. Job prospects for truck drivers also look favorable because many current truck drivers will retire soon.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the career outlook for truck drivers is expected to grow by 2% in approximately ten years. As technology continues to advance, truck drivers will be expected to operate fuel-efficient trucks, many of which will come with these innovative perks: active safety features, adaptive cruise control, and automatic transmissions. In addition, prospective truck drivers may need to be knowledgeable in platooning, a technological advancement that promotes safe close following.

To be an extremely competitive candidate for truck driver jobs, prospective truck drivers should make sure that they obtain the appropriate training, maintain a clean driving record, and stay abreast of the latest technological advancements in the trucking industry.

The average annual pay of heavy truck drivers is $18.49 per an hour, which is the expected entry-level starting amount. Commercial truck drivers can expect to earn a little more, averaging $19.95 per an hour. Averaging $20.20 an hour, tractor-trailer truck drivers earn the most. To earn $20 plus an hour, tractor-trailer truck drivers usually need to have a lot of experience.

Professional Organizations

Though trucking seems like a solitary profession, there are many associations that help drivers find needed resources, job opportunities, advocacy, and fellowship. No matter if they are independent or working in a union shop, there are associations that help drivers have their best possible career. Membership also helps drivers form a network who can help out when needed or simply provide fellowship out on the road.

  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters
    This is one of the oldest labor unions in the United States. Truckers who complete their trucking apprentice program are among the most highly sought drivers in the industry. Members all enjoy enhanced benefits, great job prospects, and superior salaries.
  • National Association of Independent Truckers
    Independent truckers who join NAIT are able to reap generous rewards. The association offers special deals on insurance including healthcare plans. Since they support independent drivers, they also provide great business tools to help member save money and work more smarter rather than harder.
  • American Trucking Association
    Members of the ATA are part of one of the largest trade organization for the trucking industry. They can take advantage of informative webinars, save money on products truckers need to succeed, and they even offer business development tools for independent agents.

Similar Truck Driving Careers

Being a truck driver is a great career, but it’s not for everyone. If you aren’t sure about being a truck driver, here are some similar careers.

  • Dump Truck Driver:
    As a dump truck driver, you’ll be expected to move garbage or construction materials from place to place.
  • Material Movers/Hand Laborers:
    These professionals are supposed to manually transport materials from one place to another.
  • School Bus Driver:
    A school bus driver is someone who transports students safely to school by using predetermined routes.
  • Material Recording Clerks:
    The role of a material recording clerk is to utilize a variety of devices to ensure that supply chains run on time.
  • Delivery Truck Drivers:
    The primary purpose of a delivery truck driver is to carry cargo from point A to point B within a local area.
  • Concrete Mixer Truck Driver:
    In this role, the worker is responsible for transporting concrete mix to construction sites.
  • Heavy Duty Truck Driver Repair:
    These workers are expected to maintain and repair heavy duty trucks.
  • Water Transportation Workers:
    Sometimes referred to as merchant marines, water transportation workers are responsible for the movement of ships that take people and cargo across the water.
  • Passenger Vehicle Drivers:
    A passenger vehicle driver is someone who uses popular modes of transportation to transport people.
  • Railroad Workers:
    A railroad worker oversees passenger and freight trains, ensuring that they always run smoothly. These workers may also repair some small aspects of the railroad system.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of hours do professional truck drivers work?

A truck driver may be expected to work up to 70 hours over eight days with driving no more than 11 hours a day. After the 70 hours have been worked, drives are required to take 34 hours off.

What is the salary of a truck driver?

Most truck drivers are paid by how many miles they drive and added bonuses. The average salary is around $47,000 annually.

What is long haul trucking?

Long haul trucking consists of being on the road delivering to multiple cities and states. Long haul trucking are gone for multiple days at a time and sometimes even months.

What is short haul trucking?

Short haul trucking generally consists of driving locally and staying within a 200-mile radius and consist of an 8-10 hour workday. Most short haul truckers are home every night.

Can you make a higher salary as a long haul trucker?

On average short haul truckers make around $32,000 and long haul truckers make around $45,000 per year.

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