Truck drivers earn good salaries without taking on the financial burden of student loans associated with a 4-year college degree. With minimal training costs to earn a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), men and women from all walks of life enjoy steady work and tremendous job security.
But not everyone is well suited for a trucking driving career. Employment statistics indicate that upwards of 35 percent of truckers quit within the first 90 days. The vast majority of those who exit the professional typically do so within the first year. Although not everyone finds the lifestyle a seamless fit, there are approximately 200 million CDL professionals and the industry grows by nearly 100,000 annually. Still, a significant truck driver shortage persists, making this one of the most secure jobs in the nation.
That being said, those considering a truck driving career need to have in-depth knowledge and a complete understanding of what it takes to be a trucker before getting behind the wheel of a big rig. We believe that potential candidates should have as much information as possible to make an informed decision about working as a truck driver. Reviewing information about trucking companies hiring and their job descriptions is the first step and can prove valuable in your job hunt.
What Does A Truck Driver Do?
Narratives about the Great American Trucker paint an iconic picture of women and men who drive thousands of miles to deliver goods and materials vital to our communities. The pandemic illustrated just how essential truck drivers are to the nation. Without them, food shortages would result, and supply chains for many goods would completely break down.
But the issue confronting those who are considering a good-paying truck driving job is that a sense of purpose will carry you only so far. Until the spotlight was shined on professional CDL holders, many felt underappreciated for taking on a sometimes challenging lifestyle. Understanding what will be expected of you can help narrow the gap between the idea of trucking and daily realities. These are items worth considering.
- Truck drivers can expect to log between 2,000 and 3,000 miles weekly
- Truck drivers typically put in 70 hours of service over eight days
- Trucker drivers can anticipate being away from home for weeks
It’s not uncommon for those new to the field to begin careers as over-the-road (OTR) drivers. Like other occupations, truck drivers need to work their way up through the industry. An OTR driver takes on long-haul runs and may be away for 2-3 weeks at a time. This lifestyle change has been the primary reason why some people exit the profession early. If you are considering a truck driving job, consider the possibility that you could be on the road for extended periods, particularly early in your career. It’s also important to understand that truck driving opportunities can be broken into the following types.
- Company Drivers: This type of truck driver works for one company and hauls products and materials. Fleet drivers have seen a rise in salaries in recent years with major retailers offering benefits for regional drivers.
- Owner-Operators: After gaining experience, truck drivers with an entrepreneurial streak often buy their own vehicle. They earn a higher living and are able to negotiate rates with freight hauling companies.
- Independent Contractors: Some truckers build a small stable of vehicles and work with companies to deliver merchandise and materials. This hybrid occupation makes the trucker part owner and part driver.
Although a certain percentage of newly minted CDL holders prematurely leave the field, opportunities for higher-earning, ownership, and improved lifestyle hours typically increase with experience. Simply put, beginner truck drivers have to pay their dues to get to top-earning positions and improved quality of life brackets.
What Skills Does a Truck Driver Need to Learn?
Driving a tractor-trailer is completely different from passenger vehicles, even reasonably powerful 4X4 trucks. Truck drivers must remain aware that traversing roadways must be managed differently. For example, pickup truck drivers can negotiate steep inclines and declines with little worry. But a loaded big-rig operator must utilize brakes in a fashion that they don’t overheat, and handle turns without shifting loads.
The skills necessary for controlling 80-feet of truck and trailer that weighs upwards of 30 times more than a car requires hyper-vigilance. Along with learning how to best use 9-18 gears, a CDL professional would be well-served to acquire the following skills
- Learn to Shift an 18-Speed Transmission
- Learn to Double Clutch
- Learn to Shift without Clutch, aka “Floating Gears”
- Learn to Use a Jake Brake
- Learn Mountain Driving Skills
- Learn Severe Weather Driving Protocols
- Learn to Secure the Fifth Wheel
- Learn to Back into a Loading Dock
- Learn to Pin-Up Your Trailer
- Learn to Use Axle Weights Properly
- Learn to Conduct a Pre-Trip Vehicle Inspection
- Learn to Make Wide Turns
The good news for those considering a CDL career is that all of these skills are generally taught in truck driver school. Federal law does require CDL professionals to meet hearing thresholds and those with potentially risky health conditions such as epilepsy may not be able to gain a CDL. The industry also monitors alcohol and drug abuse and drivers suspected of being under the influence can be required to submit to testing.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Truck Driver?
On average, it takes about seven weeks for someone to earn their CDL when making a full-time commitment. Tractor-trailer schools typically require 40 hours of your time, five days per week, for in-class education and behind-the-wheel experience.
Requirements, and therefore your time investment, differ slightly from state to state. There are usually part-time options and financial aid resources available to secure a CDL. Tuition costs also range from about $3,000 to $7,000 depending on the state. Of course, that cost pales in comparison to 4-year degree tuition costs that often leave graduates saddled with student loan debt for years. Most CDL schools accept the G.I. bill and work assistance funding for unemployed people.
It’s also worth considering that many trucking schools work with major trucking companies. Immediate placement can ensure prompt employment. Also, select companies may include sign-on bonuses that cover a part or all of your initial truck driving school investment. In terms of turnaround, someone can enter a truck driver training school for $7,000 or less and secure a job making $40,000 or more in less than two months. Financially speaking, that’s a pretty good deal.
What is the Truck Driving Lifestyle Like?
There seems to be a great deal of talk about the trucking lifestyle and its rigorous nature. For many who want to maximize their annual incomes, there’s no shortage of truck driving jobs in the U.S. If you want to go hard and work the maximum allowable hours under federal regulations, you can log hours of service for up to 11 hours per day, followed by 34 hours off. It’s not uncommon for OTR drivers to crisscross the U.S. and North America non-stop and put in upwards of 500 miles daily. These are common lifestyle experiences of hard-working truckers.
- Downtime: Many drivers sleep in their rigs or check into inexpensive motels during their mandated hours off. Experienced drivers who secure regular routes often find favored places for off-time. For example, truckers who run oil from Canada to Texas enjoy Gulf beaches and camping on their off days.
- Eating Habits: Too many truck drivers fall into a poor habit of eating fast food and at truck stops. Experienced drivers learn to shop for healthy options, carry coolers, and meal warming technology.
- Loads: Most professional drivers do what is known as “drop and hook.” This involves leaving a trailer at a loading dock and picking up another for transport. In some cases, operators may also be tasked with unloading.
It may be prudent to begin a career as a truck driver by taking advantage of flexible shift opportunities. In many cases, OTR drivers can choose to begin runs during the morning or overnight. If you are concerned about the rigors of being on the road and away from home for weeks, seeking a less strenuous position may be in your best interest. Although this pathway may limit some of your opportunities, it may be more important to sustain a long career rather than suffer early burnout.
Is the Truck Driving Life Right for You?
Plenty of people enter the trucking profession because it offers high rewards with only modest investment. Truckers earn an average salary of 45,260 per year, more than $21 per hour, and experienced drivers can pull down upwards of $100,000. When you consider a CDL can be earned for about $7,000 in under two months, entering the field seems like a no-brainer.
But being away from home and the responsibility that comes with hauling almost 80,000 pounds at high rates of speed can take a toll. That’s why men and women considering a good-paying career as a truck driver would be wise to consider whether you view being on the road as extended isolation or a new adventure each and every day.
If you have an adventurous spirit and want to get paid well to see the country and help keep America’s supply chains open, visit CDLjobs.com for more information and career opportunities.