This page has the most in-depth information on what it takes to become a truck driver. We are going to take a look at every single aspect that is needed to start a your career in the truck driving industry. So, you can view this site as the ultimate truck driving resource.
Now, there is a lot to learn if you are considering becoming a truck driver. So, before we dive into what it takes, it is probably a good idea to look at the job description so that you have all the information that you will need to decide if this is the best career choice for you. If you are reading and discover that this isn’t the job for you then I am glad I could help you realize that. However, if you are reading the job description and learn that you are really liking what a truck driver does then I promise you this page was tailor made for you.
Truck Driver- A truck driver can be defined in many ways. For the purposes of this site we are going to classify a truck driver as someone who drives a truck for a living.
Truck Driving Job Description
One of the most interesting things I have learned when it comes to job descriptions is that usually a website or paper that is entitled “job description” leaves out a few very important tasks for the particular job it is describing. Unfortunately, truck driving is no different. The general job description for a truck driver will go something like this:
A truck driver is responsible for driving a tractor trailer and moving commerce. You must be in compliance with federal, state and local laws while you perform this task. In addition, you are responsible for loading and securing the freight (to ensure nothing falls off.) You may also be asked to unload the freight.
Right about now you are thinking ” So cool, all I have to do is load and unload heavy freight on a big tractor trailer….. not exactly.” Most websites and job descriptions forget to mention all the little things that are a part of your job like:
- Keeping records and logs.
- Making it a priority to check and see if your vehicle can consistently pass inspections.
- Preventative maintenance before, during and after trips.
- Keeping your truck clean (inside and outside.)
- Planning your routes (since big tractor trailers can’t drive on all the roads that a regular car can.)
- Having enough skill to back up a big rig into a tight loading dock (acquired through training and experience.)
- Having enough skill to be able to handle all kinds of weather (heavy rain, snow, hail, etc.)
- Realization that a long distance job can sometimes take you away from home for 2 to 3 weeks.
Ok, now that we have an idea of what a truck driver does, which I realize may be scary to a few people who are on the fence, lets go ahead and look at some of the most positive aspects of driving the big rig!
Truck Driver Salary
Without a doubt, one of the biggest benefits of becoming a truck driver is the pay. I have found that, while some people will cite their love of the job as a reason they love trucking, most people overwhelmingly state that they love the job because it pays pretty well. Now, one thing that you have to keep in mind is that you aren’t going to become a millionaire with this job. In fact, you will probably be paid below the average salary of a truck driver for your first year out in the field. This leads me to my next point, the average salary of a truck driver.
According to indeed.com, the average you can expect to make as a truck driver is $52,000.
Now, like I said above, don’t expect to be earning this right out of the gate. In fact, when you first start out with a company you will be put on OTR duty (Over the Road.) This basically means that you will be going very long distances and will definitely be gone from home at a minimum of 2-3 weeks. In addition to be put on OTR duty you will be paid less. Expect to earn around $35,000 -$40,000 your first year driving.
How an OTR Truck Drivers Salary is Calculated
OTR truck drivers have an interesting way of calculating their salary. Basically, they are paid by the mile. How much they get paid by the mile depends on a number of factors. New drivers can expect to get paid .30 cents – .40 cents a mile. So, it is very similar to a taxi fare except instead of charging a passenger you are charging your trucking company for the amount of miles you put in.
Lets assume for a moment that you are an OTR truck driver that is getting paid .40 cents per mile.
- Let’s also say that you worked an 8 hour day.
- Going an average of 53 MPH.
- Using this data you would earn a total of $169.60 that day.
The Top Ten Driving Salary States
Benefits You May Enjoy As A Truck Driver
A big question that many new truck drivers have is “What kind of benefits do I get for being a trucker?” Honestly, that depends completely on the company you are working for. However, we were kind enough to compile a list of some of the most common benefits that companies will sometimes offer to their employees.
- A few companies support certain hotels so it is possible for you to get a room for free. (This is rare though.)
- Some will also maintain the truck for you by doing things like (free oil changes, free gas and tools.)
- You will receive health insurance: Medical, Dental and Pharmacy.
- You will also get basic life insurance and accidental death coverage.
- A 401k Retirement Plan
More Reasons You Might Enjoy Trucking As A Career
Don’t be fooled into thinking that truck driving is a simple job. This page is not here to lie to you, just to tell you the truth. Now, with that being said there are actually all kinds of cool reasons why you can seriously enjoy truck driving as a career.
For one, you will be traveling a lot. While that may be a scary concept to some it actually can be an amazing feeling seeing our beautiful country. Think about it for a minute, your job could literally take you by the rocky mountains one day and the grand canyon the next. You can meet all kinds of interesting people and just have the time of your life.
While we are on the subject of meeting people, one of the greatest experiences of being a truck driver can occur when you feel like you are a part of the truck drivers club. You can literally form friendships that will last a lifetime.
Qualifications You Need To Become A Truck Driver
Believe it or not, but this can be a tricky question since a lot of the qualifications that you need to have vary from company to company. Of course, there are general qualifications that every single truck driver needs to have. Lucky for you, we listed them below:
Requirements You HAVE To Have
- You will need to obtain a CDL (Commercial Drivers License.)
- You will need to be at least 21 years of age.
- Need to have held a regular drivers license in the U.S. for at least 1 year.
- You will need to pass a drug test and physical.
- Meet all of FMSCA rules.
Of course, a big topic that gets asked around our site is what kind of things will disqualify someone from being a truck driver? Just like the list above, we created one for things that will prevent you from being a trucker.
Things That DISQUALIFY You From Being A Truck Driver
- If you are a felon then your chances of becoming a truck driver are very low. (If the felony was over 5 years ago you have no chance)
- We weren’t exactly specific in the bullet point above, theft and drug related felonies are included.
- Any alcohol related violations like a DUI, DWI significantly lower your chances.
- If you fail the physical or drug test you will not be placed within a company.
- A poor work history won’t help your case either.
- Health issues you cannot have: seizures, high blood pressure, recent heart attacks and sleep apnea.
The Average Day For A Truck Driver
We have already established that as a truck driver you could potentially be gone from home for weeks. However, one thing we haven’t done yet is go into specifics about what the average day on the road can be like. In this section we are going to look at what kinds of things you will be doing on a day by day basis.
Imagine for a moment that you are a truck driver (a darn good one too.) Here is what your average day would be like:
The Hours You Work
Like we said above, the average truck driver, just starting out, is paid by the mile. So, it benefits you to drive as many miles as you can in a day. A realistic amount of miles that you can drive in a day in this job is around 400 – 600. The amount you drive can depend on how long it takes shippers or receivers to load or unload the shipment you will be hauling. You also have to take into account that before you can take off your truck has to pass inspection and be tweaked every once in awhile.
In all, the average truck driver will work 65 -70 hrs per week. When you look at the bigger picture you need to realize that the overall amount of hours you will work will be very irregu
lar. It is not uncommon to be on the road for two weeks straight (even on weekends), come home, take 4 or 5 days off and start the whole process again.
On The Road
While being a truck driver is a lot more than “being on the road” the majority of your time will be spent doing exactly that. Now, while some may see this as a burden we prefer to take a different approach. When you are out on the road you are literally experiencing the best part of the job. You get to see all parts of the beautiful country, you get to see amazing scenery changes. Think of it this way, you can be on the swampy roads of Lousiana one day and be at the Grand Canyon in Arizona the next.
People always seem to wonder how stressful truck driving is. The truth is that the job is as stressful as you make it. Of course, there are some very stressful parts to this career. For example, if you get the wrong directions and get lost or if you get caught in traffic congestion and have to worry about a safety issue.
Road Rage- Some truck drivers can get road rage really bad. DO NOT BE LIKE THESE PEOPLE. Not only will you endanger yourself but you can literally endanger others around you by creating a serious safety issue.
For truck drivers with families the job can be quite stressful as the hours are very irregular. So, if you have trouble being separated from your friends or loved ones for long periods of time then perhaps this isn’t the job for you.
Commercial Drivers License
This is a really important section if you are serious about becoming a truck driver. Why? Well, without a CDL (Commercial Drivers License) it will be impossible for you to become a truck driver. Lets take a look at what a CDL actually is before we go any further.
Commercial Drivers License- Someone who plans on driving a tractor trailer (Big Rig) is required to have a class A CDL on record according to the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986. A CDL ensures that drivers meet the requirements for operating a tractor trailer safely in the field. In order to get a CDL you will be required to pass a knowledge and driving test administered by the state you live in.
Now that you know what a CDL is the question becomes how do you get the proper training to acquire one? We will explore that in the next section below.
Your CDL Options
When it comes to getting your CDL you really only have two options.
1. Buy a study guide, study the material, hop on down to the DMV and take your test.
2. Go to a truck driving school (preferably one sponsored by your company) and get your CDL through training.
Now, there are definitely pros and cons to both ways. However, we will say that one of the options we laid out above is much better than the other. Before we go any further lets take a moment to have an in-depth look at both of your options.
1. Buy a study guide, study the material, hop on down to the DMV and take your test.
Obviously, getting your CDL this way is a whole lot cheaper than going to a truck driving school. However, there is one BIG problem with getting your commercial drivers license this way, you might find it really hard to get a job. So, for that reason we highly recommend that you DO NOT DO THIS.
2. Go to a truck driving school (preferably one sponsored by your company) and get your CDL through training.
The biggest knock on going to a truck driving school is the fact that you have to pay money (it is a school remember.) Of course, there are ways around paying but we will get to those in a second. First off, if you decide to go this route expect to pay around $3,000 – $6,000 for a proper trucking training. Now, the biggest benefit to going to truck driving school is the fact that companies are eager to give you a job if you graduate from a reputable truck driving school.
How To Get Out Of Paying- It is not uncommon for certain companies to offer to pay for your schooling. The catch here is that you have to promise to remain under their employ for at least 1-2 years.
In all, we HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you obtain your CDL at a truck driving school.
Choosing A Truck Driving School
We have already decided that we are not going to push a certain type of truck driving school on you, instead, we are going to give you specific guidelines that you can use to determine if a truck school is up to snuff. Here are some of the main things that you need to look at when you look at driving schools:
- How much the school will cost you (if you decide to not take the company driving school offer.)
- Location shouldn’t be a factor.
- The quality of the training you will be receiving.
- The quality of the instructors.
- Job placement statistics.
We realize that you may be a little confused about what each of the points above means. So, we decided to take each point and do a little more in-depth dissection.
How Much The School Will Cost You
One fact that you are going to have to accept is that if you plan on getting your CDL via a driving school you are going to have to pay money. For many people, the amount that the truck driving school will cost is the ultimate decision maker. However, we can tell you that if you go out and find the absolute cheapest truck driving school you will be sorely disappointed because there are actually a lot of other factors that you need to make a decision.
Location SHOULDN’T Be A Factor
The main point we want to stress here is that finding a truck driving school SHOULDN’T be based on how close in proximity it is to you. If you truly want to find the best truck driving school then location shouldn’t even enter in to the equation. Remember, this is your career we are talking about here.
The Quality Of The Training You Receive
A good truck driving school should at least have the following ratio:
- 4 Students to 1 Instructor.
You should also find a driving school that allows you to have plenty of driving time. The best way to learn this skill is to actually practice doing it. So, a truly good school will provide you with at least 32 hours of training behind the wheel. You will find that a lot of the driving schools you attend will have a lot of different lots/training grounds where students can practice. However, if there are too many students then an instructor will probably be spread to thin. Which leads us to our next point.
The Quality Of The Instructors
What would an ideal truck driving instructor be like? We compiled a list below.
- Easy To Understand
You do not want to have an instructor that doesn’t have experience or who hasn’t been out on the road for very long. Typically, the more an instructor has been out on the road the more experiences he will have accumulated and will definitely be able to properly train you on how to be the safest driver you can be.
What you want is someone who truly wants you to succeed. If you get the sense that this instructor is only about his/her paycheck then you should consider finding a new driving school.
Job Placement Statistics
The whole reason you are going to truck driving school is not to get your CDL, it’s to get a job. Many truck driving schools offer job placement assistance. Make sure you ask about the type of job placement assistance that your truck driving school can provide you with.
Our How To Become A Truck Driver Map
Below you may notice that we have included a map of the United States. Basically, we have compiled all the information you will need to know (qualifications, disqualifications and even truck driving schools) on a state by state basis. Enjoy!
Applying For A Truck Driving Job
One of the biggest questions we get around here is “when should I start applying for a job?” Actually, you need to start applying as soon as you know the completion date of your truck driving schooling. Usually, you can apply for a job, and if you are accepted, they will give you something called a pre-hire.
Pre-Hire- Not a guarantee but an agreement that once you complete your training you will be hired. Again, we stress that this is not a guarantee but it is as close as you will get to one.
If you are planning on attending one of the company sponsored schools make sure you start applying as early as possible, many months before you plan on attending.
Companies You Should Apply For
The mistake that most people make when applying for a truck driving job is only sending out a few applications. We highly recommend that you send out as many applications to as many companies as possible. No, you won’t be accepted by every single company you apply for but you might be surprised at how many jobs you do get accepted for. Once you do get some pre-hires you can narrow your choices down from there.
A Word On Recruiters
Just like driving schools, recruiters for truck driving companies are not created equal. We want you to be prepared as you start putting your feelers out there and part of being prepared is not falling for everything that a recruiter says. Remember, if it is too good to be true, then it usually is.
IF a recruiter offers something like a bonus or any other ridiculous claim then MAKE SURE you get it in writing. Also, one thing you always need to keep in mind is that a recruiters only job is to recruit you for their company, that’s it.
What Will Increase Your Chances Of Being Hired?
Obviously, the biggest thing that will increase your chances of being hired is having a clean history (no arrests, DUI’s, DWI’s, etc.) However, one thing that we want to stress here is that truck driving recruiters can get really busy. Sometimes your application can get lost in translation. So, it won’t hurt to call every other day if you haven’t heard back from them yet. Persistence in this case will pay off.
Things To Expect Once You Become A Full Time Truck Driver
Your first year on the road, alone, can be a little challenging. In this section we are going to talk a little about the things that you can expect during your first year as a full time truck driver. It’s important to remember that first year drivers generally get the OTR assignments so you should expect to be away from home a lot. However, after your first year, once you have experience, you will be presented with many different driving opportunities which can be a really positive step towards advancing your career.
An Increase Of Pressure
One of the toughest things about any job is that when you are completely new to it, there is a lot of pressure from your peers and employer. As a truck driver, you are not exempt from this experience. In fact, you will be expected to prove yourself a little bit. Don’t worry though, you will just be expected to show things like:
- Showing you are a safe and effective driver.
- Have an effective grasp on time management.
- Show how you have increased your mileage over the course of a year.
- Learn company policies
While this may be a turn off to most people you have to realize one thing, 90% of the time you are performing your job, you are doing so without any managerial oversight.
Being The “New Guy/Girl”
Baseball is famous for their “rookie hazing” stories. So, is truck driving any different? Will you be treated poorly as a rookie? Well yes and no. Really, how you are treated by your peers is completely up to you. If you waltz in like you are supposed to be the most important person in the room your peers will not be very receptive of you. Of course, if you are easy to talk with/get along with, your peers are going to have nothing but good things to say about you… hopefully ;).
How you are treated by your company is an entirely different thing. Expect to be treated kind of poorly by any company UNTIL you prove yourself. You need to show that you can be trusted by your company before they hand you easier work.
In this section we are going to be exploring what a dispatcher is and how you can create a good relationship with one, because it is very important to have a good relationship with one.
Dispatcher- Is tasked with the job of scheduling drivers for pickup or delivery on loads to customers or vendors. They will keep records, monitor the driver (see if they have made any errors or violations.) They are also supposed to know the weather of all the locations that their drivers are in.
Before we say anything else, it is VERY POSSIBLE to be taken advantage of by a dispatcher. So, it is very important to know your rights (http://www.examiner.com/article/truck-driver-employee-rights-under-osha-and-fmcsa) as a truck driver.
Making A Mistake
Since you are new to this job there is one thing that you are just going to have to accept, eventually, you are going to make a mistake. Whether it is getting lost in the middle of nowhere, running out of fuel, or crashing into something, the key is to not let it get to you. Accept that you are going to make a mistake and it is going to suck for a while. However, if you keep a positive attitude and endure you will be fine.