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Truck Driving Careers, Jobs and Driver Training Information

Truck Driving Career and Job Highlights

  • Job opportunities are generally abundant.
  • Jobs that offer the highest earnings and most attractive work schedules experience the most competition.
  • The operation of most large trucks requires a commercial driver’s license.

Truck Driving Career and Job description

America’s highways and interstates act as constant hosts to the nation’s truck drivers, whose cargo includes everything from large motor vehicles to small cans of food. Trucks provide the only means of door-to-door delivery and pickup for all types of goods-producing companies. Although many goods often journey by ship, train and airplane, almost all goods experience at least some time on a truck before they reach consumers.

Truck drivers perform a general inspection of their vehicle before leaving their terminal or warehouse. This includes checking the truck’s fuel and oil levels, and verifying the proper working condition of brakes, windshield wipers, lights, fire extinguishers, flares and other equipment necessary for safe travel. Drivers adjust their mirrors appropriately and ensure that their cargo is securely in place. Any discrepancies, including missing, inoperable or improperly loaded equipment are reported to the dispatcher.

During their journey, drivers must be aware of any potential hazards. Because truck drivers sit higher than most other drivers, they are able to see further down the road, thus allowing them to more easily monitor road conditions and select lanes that allow for a consistent speed.

Delivery times vary with different types of merchandise and destinations. Local drivers may follow a consistent, daily route, while deliveries made by intercity and interstate drivers may take longer and vary from day to day. Such job aspects as vehicle size, cargo type and trip duration vary from one truck driver to another.

Truck drivers—particularly those who travel long distances—are experiencing changing working conditions with the advent of new technologies. Many trucks are now linked to company headquarters by global positioning systems (GPS) and satellites. Trucks drivers now receive important information regarding such matters as weather conditions, driving directions and troubleshooting in a matter of seconds, regardless of their location. Drivers and dispatchers can easily communicate with each other about delivery schedules and mechanical difficulties. Dispatchers are also able to monitor a truck’s location, engine performance and fuel consumption through satellite linkups. Drivers also frequently use computerized inventory tacking devices. This allows producers, warehouses and customers to constantly monitor their product’s location, thus maintaining high levels of cost effectiveness and service quality.

Persons who operate vans or trucks with a capacity of at least 26,000 pounds Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) are called Heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers. These drivers transport products such as automobiles, livestock and other liquid, loose or packaged materials. These drivers frequently travel intercity and long distance routes. For especially long routes, employers often utilize two drivers who alternate between driving the vehicle and sleeping in a small room behind the cab. These two-driver trips are called “sleeper” runs, and may be days or even weeks long, with stops occurring only for loading and unloading products, and for food and fuel.

Heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers may perform regular runs, consistently transporting freight to the same city, or they may have schedules that vary daily with the needs of their employer.

The U.S. Department of Transportation requires that truck drivers—at the end of each run or shift—make a full report of their vehicle’s condition, the circumstances of any accidents and the nature of the trip. Federal regulations also require employers to randomly test on-duty drivers for drug and alcohol use.

Although long-distance and tractor-trailer drivers spend most of their working time driving, they may also unload or load cargo upon destination arrival. This is particularly true for drivers who haul specialty cargo, because they are frequently the only person at a given location who is certified to handle the materials and/or familiar with loading and unloading procedures. For instance, drivers who transport automobiles between manufacturers and dealerships are generally responsible for loading and unloading the vehicles. Long-distance moving van drivers often hire local workers to help load and unload heavy furniture.

Persons who operate vans or trucks with a capacity less than 26,000 pounds GVW are called Light or delivery services truck drivers. These drivers perform package and merchandise pickup and delivery within a defined region. Their work may involve short “turnarounds,” in which drivers deliver a shipment to a neighboring city, pick up a new loaded vehicle and drive it back to their headquarters all in one day. Electronic delivery tracking systems are sometimes used by these companies to track the location of packages and merchandise. Light or delivery services truck drivers normally unload their shipments for their clients. If there is a particularly heavy load or busy delivery schedule, drivers may have assistants. Items for delivery are often loaded into the truck by material handlers before a driver arrives at work, thus expediting the delivery process. Customers pay drivers the balance due on any cash-on-delivery merchandise, and sign receipts when they receive their goods. Drivers turn in all money and receipts collected—as well as a report of deliveries made and any vehicle mechanical problems—at the end of each working day.

In some cases, Local truck drivers may act as sales representatives and provide other customer services. These drivers are driver/sales workers—also known as route drivers—and they are primarily responsible for delivering their company’s products within a specific area or route. Route drivers sell a wide assortment of goods, including restaurant takeout meals and other food products. They also provide delivery and pickup services for laundries and other similar businesses. Route drivers’ success relies heavily on their ability to provide courteous customer service, especially when responding to customer requests and complaints. Some route drivers are additionally responsible for taking orders and collecting payments.

Driver/sales workers’ duties depend largely on the policies of their specific employer, the particular industry in which they work and the extent to which they are directly involved in sales. The majority of route drivers deliver products to businesses and stores that make wholesale purchases. For instance, a driver/sales worker may deliver wholesale bakery items to a grocery store and arrange those items on the store’s display shelves. Buy carefully monitoring which specific products are selling, driver/sales workers are able to approximate how much of each product should be stocked. They may also make recommendations to the store’s manager about future orders and new products. Driver/sales workers are often employed by laundries that rent such items as towels, work clothes and linens to businesses. In addition to making regular visits to the renting companies in order to replace dirty laundry, these drivers may also seek new clients in companies located on their route.

Having completed their route, driver/sales workers prepare for their next delivery by ordering items according to product sales trends, customer requests and weather conditions.

As trucks have become better equipped with comfortable seats, efficient ventilation and ergonomically-designed cabs, the physical demands involved with truck driving have decreased. But in spite of these improvements in basic driver comforts, the long driving hours, physical work of unloading cargo and the demands associated with making numerous deliveries can be quite wearisome. Local truck drivers are generally able to return home each evening, whereas long-distance drivers frequently cannot. In fact, long-distance truck drivers may spend most of the year away from home if they both own and operate their vehicle.

Fortunately, long-distance drivers have experienced increased efficiency and decreased stress levels with the advent of design improvements in new trucks. Amenities such as televisions, refrigerators and beds have made many new trucks comfortable homes-away-from-home for long-distance drivers.

In accordance with U.S. Department of Transportation regulations, truck drivers involved in long-distance, interstate commerce may not work more than 60 hours in any 7 day period, and must rest at least 10 hours for every 11 driving hours. Because drivers often receive compensation according to either miles traveled or hours driven, many choose to work the maximum allowable hours. As such, long-distance drivers may encounter fatigue, boredom and loneliness. In order to avoid heavy traffic and make faster deliveries, drivers often work at night, on holidays and on weekends.

Local truck drivers often work in excess of 50 hours each week. Drivers who deliver food products to bakeries and grocery stores normally work long shifts that begin either early in the morning or late at night. The majority of drivers follow regular routes, but some have route that change daily. A large percentage of local drivers—and especially driver/sales workers—are responsible for their own loading and unloading needs. Such drivers must be able to do a significant amount of walking, lifting and carrying on a day-to-day basis.

Truck Driver Training and Job Qualifications

The standards and qualifications for truck drivers are governed broadly by federal and more specifically by state regulations. All truck drivers must possess a driver’s license issued by their state of residence, and employers normally demand an excellent driving record. A resident state-issued Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is also required of all drivers who operate trucks designed to haul 26,000 or more pounds of cargo. This includes the majority of tractor trailers and a significant number of large-sized straight trucks. A CDL is required for drivers of trucks of any size that transport hazardous materials. Some specific groups are exempted from meeting federal CDL regulations. These include firefighters, farmers, emergency medical technicians, snow and ice removers and some military drivers. Numerous states only require that drivers of light trucks and vans possess a standard driver’s license.

Persons interested in obtaining a commercial driver’s license must demonstrate their ability to safely drive a commercial-sized vehicle and successfully complete a written examination on rules and regulations. All driving violations incurred by CDL holders are permanently recorded in a national database. Persons who have had their driver’s license revoked or suspended in one state are thus unable to receive a CDL in another state. All trainees must be accompanied by licensed drivers until they obtain their own CDL. State motor vehicle administrations provide specific information about how to qualify for a CDL.

State regulations often set a minimum age of 18 years for all drivers who operate trucks within the state’s boundaries. But truck drivers who participate in interstate commerce must adhere to the age requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Transportation. In accordance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, drivers must be at least 21 years old and be able to pass a biannual physical examination. Drivers must have good hearing, a 70 degree field of vision in each eye and 20/40 corrected or uncorrected vision. Drivers must not be colorblind, and they must be able to detect—with or without a hearing aid—a forced whisper from a minimum distance of 5 feet. Drivers are also required to have normal use of their limbs and a normal blood pressure. Drivers may only use controlled substances as prescribed by a licensed medical doctor. Individuals with insulin-controlled diabetes or epilepsy may not be employed as interstate truck drivers. Prior to employment, Federal regulations mandate that all drivers be tested for alcohol and drug use, and that on-duty drivers be periodically tested at random as well. Individuals who have been convicted of a crime involving drugs; driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs; hit-and-run driving resulting in injury or death; or any motor-vehicle related felony may not be truck drivers. Drivers must be sufficiently proficient in written and spoken English so as to be able to read road signs, give reports and communicate effectively with both the public and members of law enforcement. Drivers must also pass a written exam covering the U.S Department of Transportation’s Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

These minimum federal standards are often lower than those required by private trucking firms. A large percentage of companies have a minimum age requirement of 22 years, and require that drivers be capable of heavy-lifting and have 3-5 years of truck driving experience. Companies often require once-a-year physical examinations and favor high school graduates when hiring. Trucking firms benefit financially by hiring less risky drivers, as these tend to lower insurance costs and manage fuel consumption more efficiently.

Persons interested in becoming a truck driver or acquiring a CDL can benefit significantly by enrolling in driver-training classes. Prospective drivers may also benefit from high school driving and automotive mechanics courses. Prospective tractor-trailer drivers can often take training courses at public or private vocational-technical schools. These courses teach students how to safely operate large vehicles in numerous traffic situations. Students are also instructed on how to ensure that vehicles and cargo meet federal and state regulations. Not all driver-training programs offer a significant amount of behind-the-wheel instruction, and they do not provide a guarantee of employment. Before enrolling in a driving school, prospective drivers should verify the programs acceptability with local trucking firms. In some states, CDL applicants are required to complete a basic truck driving training course. Truck driver training programs receive certification from a nonprofit organization called the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI), which ensures that schools train tractor-trailer drivers in accordance with Federal Highway Administration guidelines and industry standards.

Because drivers frequently have direct contact with customers, they must be able to get along well with others. Companies favor driver/sales workers that are neat in appearance, articulate in speech, tactful and motivated. Applicants who take initiative and work well when unsupervised are more successful.

New drivers generally receive relatively informal training, often being trained on their own time by an experienced driver, sometimes for only a few hours at a time. Some of this training may involve accompanying and observing experienced drivers on their routes. Drivers who handle hazardous materials or operate certain specialized trucks receive other supplementary training. Trucking firms will occasionally provide brief classroom instruction regarding proper truck operation and loading procedures, delivery form preparation and record keeping and other general tasks. Some sales and product training is generally provided for driver/sales workers.

The majority of new truck drivers quickly receive regular driving positions, but a few begin as substitute drivers for regular drivers who are sick or unavailable, eventually receiving regular assignments as they become available.

New drivers may be initially assigned to panel trucks or other small straight trucks, moving on to larger trucks and tractor-trailers as they gain experience and demonstrate effective driving abilities.

Opportunities for advancement within the truck driving industry are generally limited to receiving routes with better schedules, working conditions and pay. With experience, local truck drivers can usually become long-distance or heavy truck drivers. Local drivers who work for companies that also employ long-distance drivers are in the best position for this kind of advancement. Some truck drivers gain positions as managers, dispatchers, delivery planners, etc.

Long distance drivers sometimes go into business for themselves by purchasing their own truck. Owner-operators are frequently successful, but some are unable to break even or make a profit, and are thus forced out of business. Owner-operators who are experienced drivers, have good business sense and have taken courses in accounting, business and business-arithmetic, generally experience the most success. Owner-drivers can also cut expenses by learning how to perform routine maintenance and minor repairs on their trucks.

Truck Driving Job and Employment Opportunities

Truck drivers should encounter a favorable job market. New job openings should be abundant as the demand for truck drivers increases, and as the large industry loses drivers due to retirement, new job opportunities and other causes. Within the truck driving industry, there is wide variation in driver wages, equipment quality and work schedules. Jobs that offer the best working conditions and highest wages generally garner the most competition.

As the economy grows and the demand for freight transportation continues to increase, truck driver employment is expected to grow at a rate equal to the average growth in all occupations through 2012. The demand for truck delivery and pickup services increases as more items are transported by trains, planes and ships. Because long-distance drivers frequently transport time-sensitive and perishable goods that cannot be efficiently transported by other means, demand for their services should remain high. The better working conditions associated with less-than-truckload carriers (as compared to truckload carriers) create greater competition within that sector of the job market.

The slow growth of driver/sales worker jobs is counterbalanced by the high growth rates within the light and heavy truck driver market. Because are companies increasingly delegating sales, customer service and ordering responsibilities to office workers, and utilizing drivers for transport services only, the demand for driver/sales workers is expected to experience slower growth than the rest of the job market.

Because the strength of the economy directly affects the demand for transportation services, truck driving opportunities tend to fluctuate with overall economic conditions. Employment increases with higher demand and a stronger economy. Economic slow downs result in decreased hiring and occasional layoffs. Drivers who work for companies that are less affected by economic changes (such as grocery stores) tend to have better job security.

Job and Employment Opportunities

In 2002, heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers earned a median hourly wage of $15.97. 50 percent earned an hourly wage between $12.51 and $20.01. 10 percent made less than $ 10.01 per hour, and 10 percent made more than $23.75 per hour. Some self-employed drivers earn significantly higher wages than those cited here.