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How to Become a Truck Driver

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Truck driving is a reliable career path. There will almost always be a need for qualified drivers; as long as consumers continue to purchase merchandise, there will be a need for drivers to transport goods. 

Learn about becoming a truck driver including education and health requirements, career outlook and pay, trucker lifestyle, and different types of trucking careers.

How To Become A Truck Driver

First, you need to have a high school diploma or a GED. To travel within your state, the age requirement is 18. But, if you want to be able to drive across the country, or OTR, you must be 21 years of age or older. You must also have a pretty good driving record. You should have excellent vision and hearing, hand-eye coordination, and be in good physical health.

Certain federal regulations will permit hiring people with any medical condition that would interfere with driving abilities. You must be able to hear a whisper from 5 feet away whether you have a hearing aid or not, and you must have 20/40 vision with a 70-degree field of vision in each eye. Most schools will require their students to get a physical exam before entering class.

Requirements for Truck Driving School
High school diploma or GED
Minimum age of 18, or 21 to drive cross-country
A clean driving record
Excellent hearing and vision: must hear a whisper from 5 feet away. 20/40 vision with a 70-degree field of vision
No medical problems or conditions that would interfere with trucking abilities per federal regulations
Must have a full physical exam before entering a class

Because most companies expect their drivers to be qualified, you may need to attend truck driving school in order to become a professional, unless the company you’re applying to has its own training. 

Truck Driving School

Whether a student chooses a private CDL school or takes classes through a local community college, CDL training typically lasts 3-6 weeks. Once the program is completed, a certificate is awarded to the student. Students in CDL programs usually spend one week, or roughly 40 hours, preparing for the written portion of the CDL exam. The remainder of training will normally be completed in the yard or on the road. 

In the classroom, student drivers will be schooled on the federal laws governing the trucking industry. Familiarity with (and adherence to) these regulations is equally as important as knowing how to operate a truck. Long hours behind the wheel can be freeing, but they can also take a physical and emotional toll on drivers. These regulations were set in place to protect truck drivers, and promote overall road safety. Find a CDL school near you.

What to Look for in a School

There are a large number of truck driving schools, and it can be difficult determine which would be the best fit for you. There are a few factors to consider and questions to ask when choosing the right school. 

  1. Make sure the school is accredited and licensed. Find out how long they’ve been so.
  2. What is the pass/fail rate both for the class and the exam?
  3. Does it help with job placement or can it provide resources for doing so?
  4. Does it prepare its students for all the varying conditions, such as interstate travel and beyond?
  5. Is it a third-party tester?
  6. Is the ratio of student to instructor at least 1:4? Any more than four students to one instructor is typically too many.
  7. Free online schools aren’t necessarily free, so look into any hidden costs. Also, make sure they aren’t a scam — many can be. Avoid mom-and-pop operations. 
  8. Schooling costs between $2,000 - $6,500. Usually, the cost includes everything the student will need — from the exam to licensing. Read about how much CDL training costs.
  9. Scholarships and grants are available through some schools. Check with the administration office to see if there are any offered at your school of choice.
  10. Because of the shortage of drivers, some trucking companies will offer tuition reimbursement to new hires. If you’ve already been hired, find out if they have a tuition reimbursement program.

The CDL Test

Truck drivers must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Exact CDL requirements can vary by state, but no matter where you live, drivers must pass a knowledge-based test, as well as an actual driving test, to earn their license. When taking the test, you must have your social security card, or another valid form of identification/legal residence in the United States. You also need to complete an application proving that you have met both medical and driver qualifications and that your driving record is considered eligible. You will also be required to pass a vision test. 

We've developed a set of CDL practice tests written to familiarize you with the types of questions that may be asked on your official state exam.

Career Outlook and Pay

Once you’re hired, expect between 1-3 months of on-the-job training. During this time, you’ll be mentored by a more experienced driver who ideally will teach you about the exact type of rig you'll be operating. Chances are, you will be sitting in the passenger seat, but at times, the mentor may allow you to take the wheel. 

"There is more credit and satisfaction in being a first-rate truck driver than a tenth-rate executive." B. C. Forbes

The majority of truckers are paid by the mile, and depending on the company, truckers may get some nice bonuses, such as a percentage of the revenue from shipping. A truck driver's pay will vary by employer, what they are transporting, and the amount of experience they have.

Employment for truck driving careers is projected to grow 6% by 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), which is about as fast as the national average. There is an increased demand, however, for OTR truck drivers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that the average pay for truck drivers was $50,340 in 2021, with the top 10 percent earning $72,730

The Lifestyle of a Truck Driver

"There is no situation like the open road, and seeing things completely afresh." James Salter, author

Many consider the profession of a truck driver to be more of a lifestyle than anything else. Your first year as a driver is generally more difficult. It's a time of adjusting to a new job — and lifestyle. Your limits can be tested, as well as your patience. But just like any job, there are positives that complement any potential downsides that you may face.

With the newer federal regulations put in place for the safety of truck drivers, you may only be asked to drive a maximum of 60 hours in a week, or 70 hours in eight days. Between each shift, the driver must take off 10 hours for rest time, which has tremendously cut down on truck-related accidents due to exhausted drivers. Truckers are expected to take a minimum of 34 hours off before starting their next seven to eight day shift.

9 Details About the Trucker Lifestyle

  1. Chances are, you’ll spend around 300 days per year on the road. That’s only 65 days you will get to spend at home. It could take up to two years before becoming a regional driver; they are able to go home every week. However, the more time you spend driving, the more money you’ll earn.
  2. You must determine whether or not your personality is a good fit for the gig. You need to be patient, determined, independent, and have a good work ethic, good judgement, and strong intuition. You need to love adventure and an active career.
  3. Truck driving allows the driver to see parts of the U.S., Canada, and even Mexico that most people never get the chance to. It’s no wonder that some truck drivers also become ‘professional tourists,’ particularly the young ones who are not married with children!
  4. Because trucking is such a lifestyle, the cabins of trucks come with features to keep truck drivers connected, such as smartphones, tablets, and video chat so keeping in contact with family and friends is a click away (when stopped).
  5. Not all truck stops are created equal. Some are nicer than others, but definitely keep a pair of shower shoes packed, just in case. Truckers who have been on the road for a long time know which stops to go to and which ones to avoid. It’s a learning curve, especially to those just starting out. 
  6. There is so much sitting involved with driving. Staying healthy can be difficult. Stockpiling unhealthy snacks is not uncommon for truckers, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Drivers can find creative ways to stay fit and healthy while doing their job.
  7. While the new trucks are luxurious and well-appointed, truck driving can be a very lonely lifestyle. Sure, there is a connection with the other drivers, but it can get tiresome being away from home for extended periods of time.
  8. There is a 125,000 mile per year expectation put on truck drivers. This is roughly 500 miles a day, every working day, per year.
  9. Driving a truck is not a 9-5 job. Some choose to get an early morning start; others like to drive through the night. The hours can be up to you, as long as you get to your destination on time while following the federal regulations.

Different Types of Truck Driving

There are three different types of CDL licenses, the Class-A license will allow the driver to get behind the wheel of tractor trailers, or anything that carries over 26,001 pounds. A Class-B license is for drivers to carry cargo up to 26,000 pounds. And the Class-C license is for carrying hazardous materials and driving larger passenger trucks. The endorsement letters are “H” for hazardous materials, “N” for tankers, and “X” for both. These are placed on the CDL license once the driver is qualified.

"Free by birth, trucker by choice." Unknown

There is quite a wide variety of trucking jobs out there. Some pay more than others. These are some of the top-paying jobs for truckers:

Liquid Hauling

Be prepared to haul hazardous waste as a liquid hauling driver. The job requires a special endorsement under the CDL license in order to travel with hazardous materials. The federal government, under the Patriot Act, requires the driver to go through a security threat assessment due to the nature of the materials he or she will be hauling. The driver also needs to have a clean record and no felony convictions including espionage, treason, or any other crimes against humanity.

Oversized Loads

To drive oversized loads, the driver must have specialty training and hold a special license. The trucks are double-sized, because so is the load they are carrying.

Ice Road Trucking (IRT)

Hey, there’s even a reality show about IRT, aptly named Ice Road Truckers. As shown on TV, ice road trucking can be dangerous, but it pays well. Drivers face extreme conditions such as sub-zero temperatures, whiteouts, and icy, hazardous, roads. It can take a while to become an IRT, because drivers will need the skills and knowledge that experience provides. 

Over the Road (OTR) Trucking

OTR drivers travel long distances, work long hours, and are away from home for days at a time. OTR trucking is considered one of the best trucking jobs. However, drivers must understand that for most of the year, their trucks are their homes. Driving OTR is enjoyable for drivers who love long hours on the open road. They deliver freight throughout the United States and even into Canada.

Specialty Car Hauler

Specialty car hauling is a division of trucking that can be difficult to get into. Hands-on training is required, because most trucking schools do not provide education in this specialized area. Drivers are responsible for loading cars onto a specialty hauler and transporting them to the desired location. Transporting luxury cars or damaged cars is part of the job, which pays fairly well. 

Dump Truck Driver

Mostly working on construction sites, dump truck drivers transport loose materials in an open-bed truck. They can also be found working at mines and storage facilities. Equipped with open beds, dump trucks transport necessary materials to and from various location sites. Coal, gravel, sand, crushed rock, and even various supplies are their passengers.

Team Driving

Sometimes, working as a team is more efficient. That holds true with team driving, as long as you’re partnered with the right person. Working as a team can bring in thousands of dollars more per year than driving solo. When there are two drivers to one truck, driving time is broken up, giving the team additional hours on the road. Jobs can be completed quicker, making room for more pick ups in the same amount of time it would take one driver to finish his or her route. 

Food Service Drivers

Just like it sounds, food service drivers deliver to restaurants, supermarkets, and other food-related industries. Drivers in the food service have a physically demanding job — they have to unload their own trucks. It’s best to be in great shape in order to sustain this type of job.

A Career Unlike Any Other

Truck driving is one of the most interesting, rewarding, and well-paying careers. It takes time to get acclimated, but once you do, you’ll be part of a brotherhood, or sisterhood, unlike any other.

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