Let’s face it. We’ve all wondered from time to time what life would be like traveling the highways day in and day out, meeting people from far and wide, living on the road, catching the sunrise and sunset from one coast to another, and taking in the sights and sounds of different areas.
If thoughts of becoming a truck driver have crossed your mind, there’s no better time than now to make the career move. After all, our growing economy depends on truck drivers keeping supply chains moving and transporting freight.
The increasing demand for goods means more truck drivers are needed. In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about pursuing a career as a truck driver.
Requirements to Become a Professional Truck Driver
If your career goal is to become a professional truck driver, the first step is to get your commercial driver’s license (CDL). A truck driving school typically requires a high school diploma or GED from every student.
Ensure you conduct your due diligence and select an option that factors in the skills required for the job. In addition to your high school diploma or GED, you’ll need to meet the following prerequisites.
- Proof of state residency
- Pass a background check
- A social security number
- Be at least 21 years of age to drive from one state to another or the minimum age of 18 to drive in-state lines
- Pass medical examinations and periodic drug tests
- Proof of insurance
- A clean driving record
Working as a professional truck driver in a trucking company requires following these six steps.
1. Going to Driving School and Passing Your State’s Standard Driver’s License Exam
As a resident, you cannot become a long-haul truck driver without holding a current driver’s license. By getting this license, you qualify to kick off your career as a delivery truck driver as you study to earn a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
2. Complete Professional Truck Driver Training and Basic Education Requirements
According to the BLS, a long-haul truck driver must hold at least a high school diploma or GED equivalent coupled with a CDL. Furthermore, serious candidates should complete the curriculum from a private truck driving school or accredited community college programs. These programs run from a few months to a year, and some students may receive financial aid.
3. Earn Pertinent Registrations, Licenses, and Certifications
A truck driving school usually teaches students how to drive trucks and the regulatory details to pass a licensing exam. Schools should focus on the essentials of the state’s CDL exam.
Furthermore, endorsements matter whereby a ‘combination vehicle’ endorsement can open the driver’s qualifications to include driving tanker trucks, semi-trucks, and hazardous material loads.
Furthermore, drivers must pass the FMCSR exam, an acronym for Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation encompassing a written section on federal traffic laws and a hearing and physical assessment.
Any type of CDL endorsement calls for a passing grade on a written test and/or a skills test. You can have a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) to gain more experience on the road under the supervision of a CDL-licensed trucker.
4. Find Job Placement Assistance
A truck driving school may offer career counseling and the services of job placement boards. Truck-driving organizations and associations provide career mentoring and job boards for their members. Furthermore, for-pay professional recruiting service organizations are available.
Lastly, Monster, Indeed, and other national job boards post openings based on driving experience, CDL training, and location. For instance, more than 28,000 new jobs for people with special endorsements and CDL holders are listed on Indeed.com.
5. Complete Training Program and Employer Orientation
There’s no denying that getting a new job will have you feeling elated and grinning from ear to ear. According to the BLS, most organizations require a newly licensed professional truck driver to complete an in-house, proprietary training program that can take up to 4 weeks.
Typically referred to as Driver Finishing Certificate Programs, training sessions introduce new truckers to the equipment, materials, and vehicles relevant to the trucking company. The monitoring of student driving entails a licensed mentor coupled with on-road training.
6. Gain Experience
Some employers in the trucking industry avoid hiring tractor drivers lacking at least two years of related experience, for instance, being a delivery truck driver. Moreover, it’s a no-brainer that experience plays into the total earnings of a semi-trailer or long haul truck driver.
Gaining on-hand experience on the road can foster networking with other drivers on learning tips, equipment advancements, job openings, and the value of getting endorsements.
Truck Driver Job Growth and Salary
When it comes to the national average for an entry-level professional truck driver, in addition to the progression in earnings pegged to years of experience, the BLS states that the median yearly salary starts at $47,130. Mid-career salaries get to $83,426.
Other sources of income that bump up the salaries include commissions, company bonuses, and profit-sharing. The fluctuations in earning levels are based on the state where the trucking company is located, the professional experience of the truck driver, and the employer.
According to the Labor Department, trucks transport the biggest amount of freight in the country. As the economy soars, so does the hiring in the trucking industry. Increased spending by households and businesses may also impact an increment in job opportunities. In 2016, approximately 1,871,700 tractor-trailer and heavy truck drivers served the country.
When it comes to the career outlook, the BLS predicts a 2% growth which means the total number of truck drivers will increase by 30,600 by 2029. With many drivers reaching retirement age, there’s a high likelihood that the number of new drivers will be greater.
Truck Driving Programs for Prospective Truck Drivers
Immense thought, planning, and research should be factored into the selection of a truck driving program. Compare the duration it takes to complete the truck driver training, the cost of the entire program, and other essentials. Consider whether the program leads to a CDL license, a degree, or certification in truck driving and the cost to add endorsements.
Other crucial factors are whether the program combines a minimum of 44 hours of actual driving and maneuvering practice with virtual or classroom learning. Inquire about the modernity of the equipment, the number of students assigned to an instructor, and pre-trip inspection. Lastly, compare the professional placement records and graduation rates for each trade school under consideration.
With that being said, here are a few of the best truck driving programs in the country. They also give you the option of enrolling to become an automotive technician.
- Alexandria Technical & Community College
- American Institute of Technology
- Arkansas Northeastern College
- Black Hawk College
- Central Piedmont Community College
- Blue Mountain Community College
- Broward College
- Clark State Community College
- Carteret Community College
- Central Community College
Is Truck Driving Ideal For You?
Due to the need in the trucking industry, a multitude of people are currently considering pursuing a career as a truck driver to make money. Although it’s not an ideal fit for everyone, there’s no denying that it can be an excellent way for many people to bring home the bacon.
If you’re contemplating taking the next step and earning your commercial driver’s license, the good news is, we’ve rounded up a few questions to gain clarity.
1. Are you on the quest for excellent compensation?
Earning a CDL license and working for a trucking company can be lucrative, particularly for a long haul truck driver who earns more than a driver with a college degree. Many companies offer bonuses for types of loads, maintaining a clean driving record, and long distances. They also offer 401K retirement plans, medical coverage, vision and dental coverage, and life insurance.
2. Is job security important for you?
Due to increased demand, a truck driver who kicks off their career with a commercial learner’s permit has job security. Moreover, a clean driving record gives you added security.
3. Does sightseeing tickle your fancy?
Without a doubt, a professional truck driver, particularly a long-haul truck driver, gets to delight in the sights and sounds of new places. In most instances, they get to see parts of the US they wouldn’t have if they weren’t truck drivers. The changing landscape and scenery is another perk of working in a trucking company.
4. Are you on the quest for a career that entails working as a team driver?
A myriad of people looks for jobs they can do with their partner or spouse. Driving with a colleague or spouse allows you to make money as you can be on the road for longer and deliver loads more efficiently.
How to Earn Your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)
Whether you want to become a truck driver short-term or considering a full-fledged trucking career, you’ll need a commercial driver’s license. That entails finding a reputable truck driving school and passing the required tests, including a skills test.
Armed with a CDL license, you qualify to drive a commercial motor vehicle on highways. While it’s no easy feat, undergoing CDL training to get the license isn’t impossible. To stay ahead of the game, we’ve rounded up what you need to know to get your trucking driver’s license.
For starters, a commercial driver’s license falls into three categories.
Class A CDL License
It’s a necessity to drive a commercial motor vehicle with a minimum weight rating of 26,001 pounds if the gross vehicle weight rating of the vehicle being towed exceeds 10,000 pounds. With a Class-A CDL, you can operate:
- Livestock carriers
- Tanker vehicles
- Tractor-trailer buses
- Triple/double trailers
- Trailer/truck combinations
A truck driver with a Class-A CDL can also operate Class C and B vehicles with the ideal endorsements.
Class B CDL License
It’s a requirement for a motor vehicle with a gross weight rating of at least 26,001 pounds, provided that the towing vehicle doesn’t surpass 10,000 pounds weight rating. Keep in mind that with proper endorsements, a Class B CDL driver may also drive Class C CDL vehicles.
Class C CDL License
It’s a requirement for a motor vehicle that doesn’t meet the criteria of Class B and A licenses. Furthermore, it’s required for vehicles that carry hazardous material or more than 16 passengers at a time.
Now that you know the types of CDL licenses, let’s discuss the requirements to get a commercial driver’s license.
Proof of Identification
Drivers must be at least 18 years of age to drive within the same state and 21 years old to drive from one state to another.
A Medical Report
Depending on the last time you had one, a medical examination report is required.
A Social Security Card
Proof of your social security number (SSN) is needed to get your CDL. As with other forms of identification, the social security documents you present must be originals. You’re not allowed to bring copies.
CDL Exam Results
You must provide proof of successful completion of CDL training and passing the exam.
To earn a Commercial Driver License, follow the steps discussed below.
1. Get a commercial learner’s permit
Now that you know what’s required, the first step is to earn a commercial learner’s permit before getting the driver’s license. To apply for the permit, you must be at least 18 years of age and have a regular driver’s license. You’ll need to provide an original Social Security Card (no copies), after which your photo and thumbprint will be taken.
You’ll need to submit:
- A medical examination report that has been filled in by a certified professional.
- A self-certification form stating the type of commercial driving you want to do.
- A commercial driver’s license application.
- A 10-year history check form if you’re a licensed driver in the same jurisdiction
In addition to this, you’ll be required to pass a written exam and vision test whereby you get up to 3 tries before being disqualified. It’s worth noting that there’s a fee for your license class. After all of this is taken care of, the Department of Motor Vehicles will issue your commercial learner’s permit.
Therefore, you can operate Class A vehicles if you’re with another driver with a valid Class-A CDL. After a few months of practice, you can take the road test to get your Class-A CDL.
2. Train at a Trucking School
A truck driving school will give you familiarity with a commercial motor vehicle, teach you how to drive it, and how to conduct a pre-trip inspection and maintenance. Truck driver training can be conducted at your pace. You’ll learn how to operate a commercial motor vehicle on the highways and roads, giving you more preparedness for the road test.
3. Take the Road Test and Get Your Commercial Driver’s License
The last step is to apply for your CDL license by acing the driving test and skills test. Start by phoning your local CDL office and book an appointment. Keep in mind that you’ll need to bring the relevant class of vehicle that you intend to drive.
The vehicle you opt for has to pass pre-trip inspection by the DMV. You have three trials to pass. If you pass the test, you’ll receive an interim CDL that will expire after 90 days.
How to Know If Trucking Is the Right Career Choice
With ample paid CDL training and practice, you can thrive in your local truck driving job. However, it’s worth noting that becoming a professional truck driver goes beyond getting a vehicle from point A to B.
A great local truck driver is more than a mere steer-wheel holder. Therefore, if you aspire to not just have a local truck driving job but a soaring career, below are check out these traits that work best in a truck driving career.
A great professional truck driver keeps promises. They do what they say they’ll do. They’re aware that customers and employers have tight schedules and deadlines that heavily rely on the timely performance of a local truck driver. A professional truck driver constantly strives to be the solution to the cargo transport challenges that crop up.
It’s no secret that office workers are a floor or door away from a department of support personnel who can offer invaluable insight or assistance. Nevertheless, even new truck drivers or a team driver is working alone in that they are out on the road, away from ‘technical support. ’
Truck drivers must handle the logistics that entail being solely responsible for the vehicle, its cargo, and making the best decision when emergencies crop up. Additionally, they should effectively cope with their solitude for most of their workdays or nightshifts, as is usually the case.
An excellent local truck driver keeps their skills and knowledge current to effectively solve problems as they arise, regardless of whether they are cargo issues, mechanical difficulties, or traffic tie-ups. They acquire the skills to manage personal aspects of their lives to ensure everything runs smoothly at home and on the road.
Although it’s no secret that a professional truck driver in the trucking industry spends a lot of time alone, a great one has great ‘people skills.’ They know how to build a rapport with anyone, including dock workers, service staff, employers, customers, and service staff, in a way that everyone they interact with feels heard and respected. An excellent truck driver is polite to clients and handles the cargo with utmost care.
An incredible truck driver who excelled in truck driving school has the fundamental knowledge of how a vehicle operates. They are skilled enough to perform repairs as need be, such as changing a light bulb or a fuse and can do what’s necessary to make sure the truck meets safety standards such as compliance.
Doing so contributes to a safer working environment not just for the truckers but for everyone sharing the road along with them.
Stress Management Skills
A competent driver with a trucking job knows how to manage stress effectively. They take challenges in stride and don’t allow them to ruin their life or day. They are sensitive to how working in a trucking company can put pressure on them and their families.
A great trucker doesn’t try to get away cheaply but rather provides true value for the money that their customers and employers spend on them. Furthermore, they don’t fudge on aspects of regulations and laws either. An excellent driver understands that in taking shortcuts, they are ultimately cheating themselves on the gratification that stems from getting the job done safely, legally, and entirely.
In a local truck driving job, an excellent trucker must be aware of a wealth of factors such as traffic, road, and vehicle condition. Driving challenges not only sight but nearly all the senses. An alert driver who is attuned to all the input they receive will quickly realize that a strange odor, vibration, or sound is an early warning signal of brewing trouble.
They must be able to evaluate and analyze their condition and take a break when fatigue sets in, dictating that it would be safer and more efficient to rest.
The quality of awareness is part and parcel of an overall level of fitness. A fit local truck driver can work long hours while remaining sharp and alert. Additionally, a truck driver needs a certain level of physical strength to quickly unload and load freight.
An Impeccable Driving Record
An excellent truck driver has a clean driving record, giving customers and employers unwavering confidence that the cargo and equipment are in great hands. A professional truck driver is also cheaper to insure and keeps the operation costs of the vehicle at a minimum. A clean driving record indicates that the driver exudes immense professionalism and self-respect, and respect for others.
Commercial Driver’s License
It’s a no-brainer that an excellent truck driver has undergone rigorous, paid CDL training and has a valid license. To earn a commercial driver’s license, a driver takes tests, including a skills test, to prove that they have the minimum knowledge and competency that a licensing state deems necessary to get the job done.
Nonetheless, a great truck driver goes beyond the minimum. They remain up-to-date with the changes in business practices, types of equipment, regulations, and tools, ensuring that their skills and knowledge are relevant. In turn, they can work with more satisfaction and less stress.
Here are the concise answers to some of the most commonly asked questions on becoming a truck driver.
1. Are continuing education credits required for a local trucking job?
Although no continuing education requirements are necessary to work as a driver in the trucking industry, earning new CDL certifications can broaden your career opportunities and add skills.
2. When is a CDL license due for renewal?
That’s based on the state of the initial commercial driver’s license. Each state establishes the duration of the license cycle. DMV.org contains a list of renewal requirements for the different states.
3. Does a truck driver with a CDL license receive dental or medical coverage?
While a trucking company can offer life and health insurance programs or discounts, others don’t. Therefore, it’s important to conduct your due diligence on each company’s policies. A self-employed professional truck driver may have to purchase private insurance via state exchanges. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) and other organizations offer group rates on vision, dental, and other health insurance plans.
4. How much does it cost to enroll in a truck driving school?
According to Forbes, you can expect to shell out anywhere between $1000 to$7,000 in tuition depending on the state licensing requirements, a particular region in the country, and school (private school or community college).
5. How does a commercial trucker receive payment?
A truck driver can get paid on a per-mile rate by leasing their driving services or on a contractual basis per load. If it’s per mile, a trucking company usually pays anywhere between $0.28 and $0.40.
6. Are there laws regarding the number of hours a trucker can drive?
According to the BLS, a heavy tractor-trailer driver typically works on a full-time basis. Nevertheless, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires every truck driver to limit their driving time to anywhere between 14 and 60 driving hours within seven days. Time logs are a requirement in federal reporting.
Resources for Truck Drivers
Established in 1933, this organization is an advocate for safety rules and federal licensing. Its detailed news section includes regulations that govern virtual hours-of-service logging and timely articles on various topics such as driver compensation surveys and tonnage.
Privately owned, this resource lists the CDL licensing requirements for each state, free CDL practice tests, and CDL eligibility requirements.
As part of the US Department of Transportation, the FMCSA provides and regulates safety oversight of CMVs. The site contains details on road safety, regulations, commercial driver licensing, and registration.
It’s a large, comprehensive section of the FMSCA website containing the government requirements and mandates for the usage of electronic logging devices (ELDs). You can learn how to annotate and edit records of duty status, gather supporting documents, and certify the records.