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How to Become a Truck Driver

By Jessica Wallace

Published:

Are you thinking of becoming a truck driver? Whether over long or short distances, you’ll haul goods and materials of economic importance, providing a service that’s essential to American industries. In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to embark on the career in trucking.

Career Summary

Truck Driver Salary

Truck Driver Salary

Factors such as your experience level and driving record determine how much you earn as a truck driver. Of course, the kind of truck you drive plays a role in how much you can negotiate. According to Glassdoor.com, these are the current earnings expectations for aspiring truck drivers in the US:

  • Entry Salary (US$45k)
  • Median Salary (US$68k)
  • Executive Salary (US$100k)

Therefore, the median salary of truck drivers in the US is well near the national annual mean wage for all occupations in the country.

What does a Truck Driver do?

A truck driver’s main responsibility is to transport goods from one location to another using a heavy-duty truck or a tractor-trailer. The job of a trucker can be hard; because they may cover regional or national routes, a truck driver may find themselves living on the road for several days or weeks at a time.

The kind of items that truck drivers convey depends on the industry. This may be food, livestock, home or electronic appliances, or heavy industrial equipment.

Truck Driver Career Progression

The career progression for truck drivers typically involves several stages of advancement and increased responsibilities. We can trace the truck career path as follows:

  • Entry-Level Driver: After obtaining a license, you’ll start as an entry-level truck driver, operating smaller trucks or working in regional routes.
  • Experienced Driver: With more experience and a proven track record of safe driving, you may be assigned to longer routes, haul more valuable cargo, or have access to specialized equipment.
  • Lead Driver/Trainer: Some companies offer opportunities for experienced drivers to become lead drivers or trainers, guiding new recruits and providing on-the-job training.
  • Fleet Manager/Dispatcher: With years of experience, you may move into managerial roles within a trucking company, overseeing operations, dispatching drivers, or managing the fleet.
  • Transportation Manager: Further career progression may lead to roles in transportation management, overseeing multiple aspects of a company’s logistics operations.
Truck Driver Career Progression

Pros:

  • Job security
  • Potential for high earnings
  • Employee benefits
  • Autonomy
  • You’re paid to travel

Cons:

  • Extended time away from home
  • Long and irregular hours
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Truck driving takes a toll on your body

Useful Skills to Have as a Truck Driver

The important skills to have as a truck driver include:

  • Spatial Awareness
  • Mechanical Knowledge
  • Problem-Solving
  • Time Management
  • Patience and Resilience

Popular Truck Driver Specialties

Not all truck driver positions are the same and some may require you to drive a specific type of truck. Here are some commercial truck driver specialties you should know about:

  • Auto Hauler: Shipping and transportation of cars
  • Bull Hauler: Special type of hauling to get livestock to market
  • Flatbed Loads: These loads are pulled on open trailers. Common types of freight include airplanes, boats, and wind turbine equipment.
  • Refrigerated Containers: They haul freight that needs to be maintained at a specific temperature.
  • Tankers: Tankers haul milk, gasoline, chemicals, fruit juices, and so forth. They may also haul dry goods like cement or sugar.

How to become a Truck Driver

Truck Driver 5 Steps to Career

Education

What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Truck Driver?

The specific educational requirements for truck driving jobs can vary depending on the country, state, or employer. Some trucking companies may require a high school diploma or a GED, but this is not always a requirement. However, there are some general qualifications and certifications you need to pursue a career as a truck driver. See these common requirements:

  • You will need a valid driver’s license for the class of vehicle you intend to drive. This usually includes a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) for operating commercial vehicles.
  • The minimum age requirement for obtaining a CDL is between 18 and 21 years old, depending on whether you plan to drive within your state or across state lines.
  • You will need to pass a physical examination to ensure you meet the medical standards set by the Department of Transportation (DOT) or relevant regulatory body. This certifies that you’re capable of safely operating a commercial vehicle.
  • Trucking companies often have strict guidelines regarding driving records, so they prefer that you have a clean driving record.

While a formal degree is not mandatory, some employers may prefer candidates with a high school diploma or equivalent.

It’s important to note that regulations and requirements can vary, so it’s advisable to check the specific requirements in your area or consult with a local truck driving school or transportation authority for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

The Importance of Completing a Truck Driving Training

Proper training, certification, and licensing are really what a professional truck driver needs. These are crucial for the following reasons:

  • The government has legal requirements such as a CDL license and certification for anyone to drive a truck legally. Without them, you may face legal consequences and career limitations.
  • Trucks are large and powerful vehicles, so formal training programs provide essential knowledge about truck maintenance, defensive driving techniques, handling hazardous materials, and traffic regulations. Proper training significantly reduces the risk of accidents and promotes safety on the road for both the truck driver and other road users.
  • Completing a recognized truck driving training program or attending a reputable truck driving school enhances your employability, pay, and benefits. Many companies prefer drivers with professional training, as it demonstrates your commitment, knowledge, and competence in the field.
  • Truck driving programs provide practical skills to teach you about industry-specific regulations, transportation logistics, and customer service skills. Upskilling helps you to adapt to the evolving demands of the industry.

How Long Does It Take to Complete a Truck Driving Training?

The specific program you choose and your individual circumstances determine how long it takes to complete the training and get your certification in truck driving. In general, the duration can range from a few weeks to several months.

Some schools offer three-to-four-week accelerated programs preparing students for licensing exams. However, shorter programs may not cover some aspects of the profession.

Longer programs may span several months, offering comprehensive training in vehicle maintenance, logbook procedures, trip planning, and other important aspects of the trucking industry. Some even include apprenticeship opportunities.

Ultimately, it is best to research and contact specific truck driving schools or training programs in your area to get accurate and up-to-date information on their curriculum, duration, and any prerequisites they may have.

What are the Costs of a Truck Driving School and Obtaining a CDL license?

Truck driving education costs vary according to the type of training program, location, duration, and its specific services or resources. Here are some cost considerations:

  • Training School Fees: The CDL training fees range from a $1,000 to several thousand dollars, depending on the location and the components included in the training program.
  • Additional Costs: Besides program fees, other expenses to consider include the cost of textbooks, study materials, medical examinations, drug tests, background checks, the cost of obtaining a driver’s license, and any necessary endorsements or certifications. These may vary by location and the specific training program and licensing authority requirements.

Can I Become a Truck Driver Through Online Education?

Truck driving training typically combines practical training and hands-on experience. Online education can provide valuable theoretical knowledge and information, but practical aspects of training require in-person instruction and practice.

There are online resources to supplement your truck driving education. These online resources may cover trucking regulations, industry-specific knowledge, trip planning, cargo handling, defensive driving techniques, and other topics. They can be a useful complement to formal training programs or a way to refresh your knowledge and skills throughout your career.

However, while online education can provide valuable knowledge and supplementary resources for aspiring truck drivers, it is not sufficient on its own to fulfill all the requirements for becoming a professional truck driver.

What are Some Web Resources to Learn Skills to Become a Truck Driver?

There are a few web resources that provide valuable information to learn truck driving skills. These resources cannot replace practical training and hands-on experience, but they can complement your education with relevant theoretical knowledge. Here are a few we recommend:

  • Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Website: The FMCSA regulates the US trucking industry. Their website provides information on trucking regulations, safety guidelines, and resources for aspiring truck drivers. It includes materials such as the CDL Manual, which outlines the knowledge and skills required for obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License.
  • Professional Trucking Associations: There are various professional associations dedicated to the trucking industry that provide resources and information for aspiring truck drivers. Examples include the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). These groups’ websites feature educational materials, training programs, industry news, and other resources.
  • Online Forums and Communities: Online forums and communities dedicated to trucking can be valuable sources of information and insights from experienced truck drivers. Websites like TruckersReport and TruckingTruth have active forums where you can ask questions, engage in discussions, and learn from the experiences of others in the industry.
  • YouTube Channels and Videos: Numerous YouTube channels provide educational content related to truck driving. Channels like Smart Trucking, Big Rig Videos, and CDL College offer instructional videos, tips, and insights on various aspects of truck driving, including maneuvering techniques, pre-trip inspections, and industry updates.
  • Online Training Courses: Some websites offer online training courses that cover specific topics related to truck driving. While these courses may not provide the practical experience of hands-on training, they can be helpful for reinforcing knowledge and learning at your own pace. Examples include the National Highway Institute (NHI) online courses and commercial online training providers like Samba Safety.

Practical Experience

What internship opportunities exist for truck drivers?

Internship opportunities for truck drivers are not as common as in other industries. However, here are some options to help you gain practical experience and enhance your skills as a truck driver:

  • Company-Sponsored Training Programs: Some trucking companies offer training programs with a period of on-the-job training (OJT) or apprenticeships. These structured-learning programs allow you to work with professional drivers while receiving practical training and gaining real-world experience.
  • Entry-Level Positions: As a beginning truck driver, you can look for entry-level positions with trucking companies. They may not be called internships, but they can provide valuable hands-on training coordinated by experienced drivers.
  • Networking and Mentoring: Building connections with experienced truck drivers or industry professionals can provide you with valuable mentoring and guidance. Connect with trucking associations, attend industry events or conferences, and engage with online trucking communities. These help you discover individuals willing to share their knowledge and offer mentorship opportunities that may not be formal internships.
  • Apprenticeship Programs: These programs combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction, providing a comprehensive learning experience. They typically involve working with an experienced driver to gain hands-on experience and develop new skills.

The availability of specific internship opportunities for truck drivers depends on your location, specialization, and individual company policies. We recommended you check out local trucking companies, industry associations, job boards, and career websites for potential internship or training opportunities.

What skills will I learn as a truck driver?

As a truck driver, you will develop a range of skills essential for the safe operation of a commercial vehicle within the specific demands of your job. Here are some key skills you can expect to learn and refine as a truck driver:

  • Vehicle Operation: You will learn how to operate and control various commercial vehicles, including tractor-trailers or semi-trucks.
  • Defensive Driving: Defensive driving techniques promote road safety. You will learn how to anticipate and respond to potential hazards, practice proper following distances, execute lane changes and turns safely, and effectively use mirrors and other safety devices to monitor your surroundings.
  • Trip Planning and Navigation: A truck driver needs to plan and navigate routes effectively. This involves learning to read maps, use GPS systems or trucking industry-specific navigation apps, understand transportation regulations, consider traffic patterns, and factor in rest stops, fueling stations, and other logistical considerations along your journey.
  • Cargo Handling and Load Securing: You may learn specific techniques for handling and securing various types of cargo. This includes knowledge of weight distribution, proper loading and unloading procedures, and securing cargo using straps, chains, or other techniques to stabilize your truck during transit.
  • Vehicle Maintenance and Inspections: Truck drivers are responsible for conducting routine vehicle inspections and basic maintenance tasks. You will learn how to perform pre-trip inspections to check the mechanical components, tires, brakes, lights, and other essential parts of the vehicle. Additionally, you will develop an understanding of basic maintenance tasks like checking fluid levels, changing tires, and addressing minor mechanical issues.

The list of necessary skills and knowledge evolve over time, and continuous professional development is crucial for maintaining a successful and safe truck driving career.

How can a truck driver achieve a work-life balance?

Several factors such as the type of trucking job, the company you work for, the routes you drive, and your personal preferences determine a truck driver’s work-life balance. Here are some key aspects to consider regarding this issue:

  • Schedule and Hours: Truck driver schedules can vary widely. Some drivers have regular routes or dedicated runs with consistent schedules, while others may have irregular or long-haul assignments. Local or regional drivers may have more predictable schedules with shorter trips and more frequent home time. It’s advisable to consider the specific job requirements and find a position that aligns with your desired work-life balance.
  • Time Away from Home: One of the challenges for truckers, especially long-haul drivers, is time spent away from family and loved ones. However, some trucking companies offer schedules or routes allowing frequent home time. It’s best your communicate your preferences to potential employers and seek opportunities to balance work and personal life.
  • Flexibility: Depending on the company and job type, you may enjoy some flexibility in scheduling and routes. Some drivers have assignment options that allow for more consistent home time. This accommodates personal commitments.
  • Industry and Career Choices: Different sectors of the trucking industry have varying demands on work-life balance. For example, truck drivers in certain industries such as food delivery or specialized freight may have more regular schedules and home time compared to long-haul drivers.

Achieving a satisfactory work-life balance as a truck driver requires intentional planning, effective communication with employers and family members, and finding opportunities that suit your preferences and personal circumstances.

What’s the Career Outlook for Truck Driver?

The career outlook for truck drivers in the USA is generally favorable, with a steady demand for qualified and skilled professionals in the industry.

The transportation of goods by trucks is a critical component of the economy, and truck drivers play a vital role in the supply chain. The demand for truck drivers remains strong, driven by factors such as e-commerce growth, population growth, and increased consumer spending. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is projected to grow by 4% from 2021 to 2031, which is considered as a relatively stable outlook.

The trucking industry has been experiencing a shortage of qualified truck drivers in recent years. This shortage is due to an aging workforce, high turnover rates, and challenges in obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License. This means there are opportunities for aspiring truck drivers to fill these positions in companies.

Regional factors, economic conditions, and individual specifics can impact the career outlook of truck drivers. Yet, the demand for skilled and qualified truck drivers will likely persist, providing ample career opportunities in the foreseeable future.

Truck Driver Popular Career Specialties

What are the job opportunities of a truck driver?

Truck drivers have a range of job opportunities within the transportation and logistics industry. Here are some common job opportunities for truck drivers:

  • Long-Haul Truck Driver: Transports goods over long distances, often crossing state lines or traveling across the country to deliver goods to distribution centers, warehouses, or retail locations.
  • Regional/Short-Haul Truck Driver: Regional or short-haul truck drivers operate within a specific geographic area, typically covering shorter distances and returning home more frequently.
  • Local Delivery Truck Driver: Local delivery drivers transport goods within a local area or city. They may work for companies engaged in parcel delivery, food and beverage distribution, or other localized delivery services. Local drivers often have regular routes and predictable schedules, allowing for more consistent home time.
  • Specialized Truck Driver: Specialized truck drivers handle specific types of cargo that require specialized knowledge or equipment. They may require additional endorsements or training to handle specific cargo types.
  • Owner-Operator: Some truck drivers choose to become owner-operators, which means they own and operate their own trucks and work independently. They are free to choose their clients, routes, and schedules. But, they’ll also bear the responsibility for end-to-end management of their business.
  • Team Driver: Team drivers work in pairs, taking turns driving and resting to maximize the time the truck is on the road. This setup allows for the continuous operation of the vehicle, enabling faster delivery times for time-sensitive cargo. Team driving is common in long-haul operations, where drivers cover long distances and have tight delivery schedules.
  • Truck Driver Trainer: Experienced truck drivers can become professional trainers or instructors. They can assist less-experienced drivers to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to become successful truck drivers. Trainers may work for truck driving schools, trucking companies, or independently.
  • Dispatcher/Fleet Manager: Some truck drivers transition into roles as dispatchers or fleet managers. These positions involve coordinating and scheduling truck drivers, managing routes, communicating with clients, and ensuring timely and efficient transportation of goods.

These are just a few examples of job opportunities available to truck drivers. They are sector-specific and depend on the size and type of companies, and regional factors. Drivers may also specialize in certain industries or cargo types, further expanding their career options within the transportation and logistics field.

What types of companies hire truck drivers?

Here are some examples of the types of companies that often employ truck drivers:

  • Trucking Companies: Trucking companies offering long-haul, regional, and local delivery specialize in transportation services and have a fleet of trucks and drivers to transport goods.
  • Freight and Logistics Companies: Freight and logistics companies managing the movement of goods and coordinate shipments for businesses need truck drivers to sustain the supply chain.
  • Retailers and Distributors: Distributors and retail companies (online and offline), hire truck drivers to transport goods from distribution centers to retail stores or directly to customers.
  • Manufacturing and Industrial Companies: Manufacturing and industrial companies who own trucks or lease them need truck drivers to transport raw materials, components, and finished products to and from their facilities.
  • Construction Companies: Construction companies hire drivers for specialized trucks to transport construction materials, equipment, and machinery to and from job sites.
  • Waste Management Companies: Waste management companies require truck drivers to collect and transport waste and recyclable materials to designated facilities for disposal or recycling using garbage trucks or specialized waste management vehicles.
  • Food and Beverage Industry: Companies in the food and beverage industry, such as grocery stores, wholesalers, and food distributors, hire truck drivers to transport perishable goods, packaged food items, and beverages.
  • Petroleum and Chemical Companies: Petroleum and chemical companies hire truck drivers to transport fuel, chemicals, and hazardous materials. Due to the nature of the cargo, drivers in this industry may require additional certifications, such as Hazmat endorsements on their CDL.
  • Agriculture and Farming: Agricultural companies and farms hire truck drivers to transport crops, livestock, and agricultural products. These drivers may work in seasonal positions during peak harvesting periods.
  • Medical and Healthcare Facilities: Medical institutions and healthcare facilities sometimes employ truck drivers to transport medical equipment, supplies, and pharmaceuticals between locations.
  • Utilities and Energy Companies: Utility companies, such as water, gas, and electricity providers, often hire truck drivers to transport equipment, supplies, and materials to maintain and repair infrastructure.

These are just a few examples, and there are many other industries and organizations that require the services of truck drivers. The specific job opportunities may vary depending on factors such as location, industry specialization, and personal preferences.

Should I become a Truck Driver?

Now that you’ve seen how comprehensive and rewarding driving a truck can be, would you also consider becoming a truck driver? You’ll be contributing to the economic growth of our nation. However, you’ll also be helping individuals buy items they want from their neighborhood store, families buy the groceries they need, and businesses buy essential raw materials and office supplies.

These activities are what keep our economy in an infinite loop. Not only will you put smiles on children’s faces, you’ll help businesses grow, and you’ll earn a decent salary in the process.

This guide has outlined all you need to know to build a rich and rewarding career as a truck driver in the US.

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Jessica Wallace

About the Author

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