A career as a HAZMAT driver is usually more lucrative than standard trucking jobs, but it’s also more dangerous. In addition to a greater sense of caution and physical health, HAZMAT driving requires greater training.
What is a HAZMAT Driver?
A HAZMAT truck driver is responsible for transporting hazardous substances. They’re required to strictly adhere to a set of procedures that are designed to minimize the risk that HAZMAT poses, both to the driver and the general population. HAZMAT truckers have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) like all other truckers, but they also have additional training in the handling, delivery and disposal of HAZMAT.
These drivers are often the first to spot and respond to critical issues involving HAZMAT because of their training. Most prospective employers consider HAZMAT drivers particularly responsible, so they typically stay quite busy. In addition, these drivers must maintain safer driving records and higher health standards. As a result, HAZMAT drivers earn a higher income than standard truckers, As a result, HAZMAT drivers earn a higher income than standard Class A drivers, along with greater freedom in the assignments they accept.
What is Considered HAZMAT?
HAZMAT includes many types of types of materials, so governments usually develop a classification system to indicate the specific hazards posed by each type. For example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates trucking in the United States. It recognizes eight specific classes of HAZMAT:
Some of the above materials are liquids or liquefied gases, which require a tanker to transport. They require an N endorsement to haul, in addition to the H endorsement needed to transport any type of HAZMAT.
Use our study guide to learn more about the eight specific classes of HAZMAT and other facts you need to know to pass the HAZMAT endorsement exam
HAZMAT Driver Training Requirements
HAZMAT training consists of the following four steps:
- Obtain a CDL.
- Obtain a HAZMAT endorsement.
- Pass the background check.
- Obtain a tanker endorsement.
1. Obtain a Valid CDL.
HAZMAT drivers need the same Class A CDL as all professional truckers, so you’ll already have one unless you’re completely new to trucking. The specific requirements of earning a CDL vary by state, but they generally allow a learning period, during which you can practice your driving skills while a CDL holder is in the truck with you. Once the permit expires, you must pass a driving test from a certified training center, typically from an employer or state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
2. Obtain a HAZMAT endorsement.
Ensuring the strict safety standards of hauling HAZMAT requires additional training on top of a CDL. You must show that you’re at least 21 years of age by presenting qualifying proof of identification such as an existing driver’s license or other photo ID. You must also supply proof of US citizenship or legal residency. In addition, you must pass a medical and eye exam.
Once you meet these requirements, you can apply to take the Hazardous Materials Endorsement Knowledge (HMEK) test, which requires a fee of $80 to $100 depending on your state. This written test covers federal and state regulations and guidelines regarding the loading, unloading and transportation of HAZMAT. If you pass this test, you’ll receive your HAZMAT endorsement.
Use our study guide to learn everything you'll need to know to pass the HAZMAT endorsement exam.
3. Pass the background check.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will conduct a background check during the application period for your HAZMAT endorsement, which typically takes 30 to 60 days. The fee is $86.50, as of 2022.
The purpose of this background check is to determine if the applicant has been convicted of a disqualifying crime or is under suspicion of committing such a disqualifying crime, which generally includes violent crimes, espionage, terrorism or treason. These acts could permanently or temporarily disqualify an applicant from obtaining a CDL, depending on the severity and other circumstances.
For example, applicants are permanently disqualified from receiving a HAZMAT endorsement if they have been convicted of any of the following crimes, including guilty pleas, no contest pleas or found not guilty by reason of insanity:
- Crimes involving a transportation security incident (TSI)
- Crimes involving explosives
- Improper transportation of HAZMAT
- Human trafficking
Convictions of conspiracies and attempts to commit the crimes as noted above also permanently disqualify applicants from obtaining a HAZMAT endorsement. Most recently, human trafficking was added to this list in 2019.
Lesser felonies, such as those involving firearms, fraud, violent crime, and immigration violations, among others, also disqualify an applicant for seven years from the conviction, or five years from the applicant’s release from incarceration for these crimes.
Convictions of conspiracies and attempts to commit the certain crimes are also interim disqualifying felonies from obtaining a HAZMAT endorsement. In addition, applicants are disqualified if they are wanted or under indictment for any permanent or interim disqualifying felony until the warrant or indictment is dismissed.
4. Obtain a tanker endorsement.
For all practical purposes, a tanker endorsement is essential for HAZMAT drivers, even if it isn’t technically necessary. Many types of HAZMAT, like gasoline and pressurized gases require transportation in tankers, which accounts for a major portion of HAZMAT jobs.
A tanker, or N, endorsement requires a separate knowledge test from the HAZMAT, or H, endorsement. If you have both, this will be shown as an X endorsement on your CDL. You may take these tests separately or at the same time. The fee for a tanker endorsement costs between $15 and $20, depending on your state.
Employers expect HAZMAT drivers to have a very clean driving record, typically at least three years of accident-free driving for new hires. A clean driving record is a strong indicator of good judgment, which is a crucial trait to have when moving HAZMAT.
Employers also require a minimum education of a high school diploma or GED in most cases, but competitive candidates will also have prior experience in handling HAZMAT. Top candidates will have additional training such as a Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) certification. First-aid certification is another way candidates can distinguish themselves, as it provides employers with greater confidence in their ability to handle accidents.
HAZMAT Driver Salary
The median annual wage for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in the US was $49,920 as of May 2022, according to the BLS. This income makes trucking one of the most lucrative professions that doesn’t require higher education. However, drivers with both HAZMAT and tanker endorsements typically earn significantly more than this, with an average annual salary exceeding $100,000 as of December 8, 2023. The primary reason for the difference in pay scale is the increased reliability and sense of responsibility that HAZMAT drivers offer.
A HAZMAT endorsement can also lead to additional job opportunities in this field with higher earning potential. These include a HAZMAT owner-operator, who makes $225,000 annually.
Industry Growth Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects heavy truck and tractor-trailer related jobs to grow four percent from 2021 to 2031. It doesn’t expect any significant change in the number of HAZMAT removal jobs during this period, which currently stands at 44,700 jobs. About 5,700 openings are available each year, virtually all of which are created by workers leaving their existing positions.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) requirement to remove and clean hazardous items at sites is one of the primary growth factors for HAZMAT drivers. The decommissioning of nuclear plants is also an important driver for this career during the next decade. Additional factors include the continuing increase in waste recycling and natural employee attrition. In summary, the high demand and low entry barrier for HAZMAT drivers makes it a promising career choice for many Americans.
Boost Your Resume
It will often be worthwhile to get HAZMAT and tanker training from the beginning if you’re considering truck driving as a career. Even if you don’t start out by transporting these materials, an X endorsement on your CDL places you in a superior position when applying for these jobs. In most cases, it’s also easier to get both of these endorsements at once, especially at the beginning of your career.
If you’re already an experienced driver with a clean record, there’s no real reason to avoid adding a X endorsement to your credentials. The added income is usually worth the additional risk and expense of getting this training.
Ready to Take the Next Step?
Ready to obtain your HAZMAT endorsement? Then it's time to study for the exam! Use our HAZMAT endorsement study guide to prepare for the test today.
Already obtained your endorsement? Check out HAZMAT truck driving jobs here.