What to Expect Your First Year of Trucking

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Getting your Class-A CDL is exciting, and a great accomplishment. You have learned a lot about the world of trucking — and trucks — and how to operate and maneuver these huge vehicles.

But, what you might not realize is that you are not just beginning your career. You are entering a second kind of trucking school — your first year in trucking.

Getting started in your trucking career can seem intimiating, but with time, it will all become second nature to you.

Getting into Gear Your First Year

Many experienced truckers describe this first year as big challenge. One trucker says, “Your first year as a truck driver is going to be the hardest one.”

Don't let this intimidate you! By knowing what the work will be like in your first year, you can be ahead of your peers, ready to take on anything the job will present you with.

This article has some tips and tricks to make your first year of trucking as exciting (and stress-free) as possible.

A Great First Year Equals a Great Career: 11 Tips

1. Get as much driving experience as you can. Experinced truckers will tell you that the more experience you have, the more work you’ll get, the more money you’ll make — and the more relaxed you will feel.

2. Expect to be assigned to a driver trainer. This is true for many first-year truckers, so you need to be prepared for it. Sharing a rig with another person is hard, not to mention awkward sometimes. Just remind yourself this will not last long. Make the best of it — and learn from that trainer’s experience.

3. Learn to save money. Living on the road can get pretty pricey. By bringing your own food and avoiding meals at truck stops, you can save yourself a lot of money.

4. Stay as diligent as possible to avoid accidents. It’s a fact of first-year trucking that accidents are common. “That’s really just inexperience,” says James Fairbank, a veteran truck driver and now Director of Education at the National Tractor Trailer School in Liverpool, N.Y. He adds that new truckers “are really pressured out there just to get things done, not take up time, they’re worried about being in people’s way, where to park, and it can be overwhelming. Learn to slow down, take a deep breath, and relax.”

Still, accidents are expensive, they stain your driving record, and shake your self-confidence. So, surviving this first-year accident-free will pay off in the long run. Many accidents and mishaps are preventable, so we encourage first year CDL holders to slow down, pay attention to their surroundings, and err on the side of caution.

Remember the acronym G.O.A.L. (“Get Out And Look") to avoid accidents. Most often, these occur when you’re backing up into a new customer location or other unfamiliar tight spots.

Look at all angles, and don’t rely on a spotter who may not understand the intricacies of backing up a semi truck. Learn to avoid these and other kinds of rookie mistakes and make it to that first-year finish line free of accidents.

5. Take care of yourself. Trucking is physically and mentally challenging. Make sure you take care of yourself by eating well, getting enough sleep every night, taking breaks, and monitoring your health.

6. Do what it takes to stay in touch with family and friends. As Fairbank noted, adjusting to this new lifestyle “is the biggest learning curve.” Regular contact with family and friends is the best goal, and it’s easy to do.

Through phone calls, video chats, and social media, you can stay in touch with your family while you're out on the road.

When you get home, you may just want to sleep a lot. However, you should also spend as much time with your family as you can. It makes your short time home feel longer and it goes a long way to extending your presence after you leave for your next haul.

7. Don’t job hop. Though it may be tempting, it is much better to stick it out with your first company for at least a year. By staying longer, you can earn better experience and may possibly earn higher wages. After a year, you can reassess your options and decide if you want to change companies. 

Also, before you choose an employer, do your research into the company so that you're comforable staying there for a while. Find trucking companies hiring near you here.

8. Find an employer close to home. If you’re an OTR trucker, find a trucking company that has a terminal located as close to your home as possible. That will allow you to get home between loads more often. If you do find such a terminal, you might choose to keep a car parked there so you can go home right away.

9. Consider finding mentors. Finding a mentor can help you avoid mistakes out on the road in your first year. Find someone you trust in the industry, a coworker, family member, or friend, who is willing to coach you. Mentors have invaluable advice that can help you for many years.

10. When all else fails, just let it go. This is advice anyone can use, especially truckers. There are things you cannot change, especially out on the road and there are many unexpected things that happen to drivers. Road rage can be very dangerous. However, road rage is not the only issue; be sure to treat everyone you meet with kindness and respect. By learning to go with the flow, you can make the best out of a bad situation nearly every time.

11. Keep your expectations realistic. The first year you work will be all about adjusting. It is more than a new job — it’s a new lifestyle. Trucking, primarily OTR trucking, has been compared by some to life in the military, or working on oil rigs.

Also, keep in mind your pay will be about average (though the average for most truck drivers is good!) You can make a living — with benefits — as a rookie. In 2022, the average annual wage for truck drivers was $53,090, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov). In time, you may earn closer to the top 10%, which is $75,220! 

Another thing many say is that you may not be given the best loads right away as a new driver. 

“You’re the new guy, a green horn, wet-behind-the-ears,” Fairbank says. “You’re going to be given loads that you’re not going to be happy with. Your mileage will not be up to par ... They’re still seeing how well you do.”

Fairbank, who also was a dispatcher for a major company, says it’s not always a case of seniority with load-allocation.

When assigning loads for a major trucking company, “we had over 100 variables to consider. For new drivers who are unaware of this, it can seem random and arbitrary. They think, ‘My dispatcher is trying to mess me over,’ but often, that is not the case.”

Fairbank recommends communicating more with dispatchers. For instance, let them know not just the day you need to be back home, but the time of day as well. In addition, he says, “be cooperative with your dispatcher. If there’s an issue, you need to address it.”

Be patient, work hard, and don’t give up!

Have a great first year, truckers, and a great career!

Find a trucking job near you now.

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