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How to Become A Truck Driver

This article provides an overview of truck driver careers and the requirements to become a truck driver. This article will outline truck driver job duties, salary levels, and employment prospects, as well as discuss the career's necessary skills, training, educational requirements, and certification requirements.

Truck Driver Job Duties

Truck drivers are involved in delivering almost everything that we purchase. Even goods that are transported by plane, rail, or on a ship, must travel by truck at some point in their journey from producer to consumer. Trucks drivers are classified by the size of the truck that they drive:

  • Heavy truck and/or tractor trailer drivers drive trucks with a capacity of 26,000 pounds or more Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)
  • Light truck drivers drive trucks with a capacity under 26,000 pounds GVW

Truck drivers can further be classified by the length of their driving routes. Local drivers typically provide daily service and drive short distances or specific short routes. Some local truck drivers also have sales or customer service responsibilities, as would be the case for a wholesale bakery driver. Intercity, or interstate, truck drivers, also sometimes called long-haul drivers, drive longer distances, frequently requiring long periods away from home.

The basic job duties of a truck drive can include:

  • Monitoring fuel and oil levels of their truck
  • Inspecting the truck's basic systems such as brakes, wipers, and lights, to assure that they are in proper working order
  • Inspecting basic safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, and flares to make sure that they are onboard and in proper working order
  • Inspecting and securing cargo
  • Driving cargo from its point of origin to its destination
  • Loading and/or unloading cargo
  • Filling out all necessary U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) reports and forms
  • Driver/sales persons will also have to monitor inventories at delivery destinations and handle ordering of inventory

Truck driving can be physically demanding work requiring long periods of driving, and loading and unloading of cargo. The U.S. DOT does stipulate that long-distance drivers cannot work more than 60 hours in a 7-day period. They also require that drivers rest 10 hours for every 11 hours of driving.

Truck Driver Job Skills

Truck driver job skills include:

  • Ability to operate a heavy, complex, vehicle
  • Possess excellent vision (20/40 or better naturally or with corrective lenses)
  • Possess good hearing (hear a forced whisper at 5 feet naturally or with a hearing aide)
  • Have normal use of arms and legs
  • Possess physical strength for loading and unloading duties
  • Ability to read and write English
  • Driver/sales persons must also be comfortable dealing with people and have effective verbal communication skills

Truck Driver Income

Truck drivers can be paid by the hour or miles driven. As of 2002, hourly earnings for heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers were around $15.97, with the top 10% earning more than $23.75 per hour. Earnings for truck drivers vary by industry segment with the median hourly rates for the industries employing the largest number of truck drivers being:

IndustryMedian Hourly Rate General freight trucking $17.56 Grocery and related product wholesalers $16.90 Specialized freight trucking $15.79 Other specialty trade contractors $14.25 Cement and concrete product manufacturing $14.14

As of 2002, hourly earnings for light or delivery service truck drivers were around $11.48, with the top 10% earning more than $20.68 per hour. Earnings for truck drivers vary by industry segment with the median hourly rates for the industries employing the largest number of light or delivery service truck drivers being:

IndustryMedian Hourly Rate Couriers $17.48 General freight trucking $14.92 Grocery and related product wholesalers $12.26 Building materials and supply dealers $10.83 Automotive parts, accessories, and tire stores $7.82

As of 2002, hourly earnings for drivers/sales persons were around $9.92, with the top 10% earning more than $19.60 per hour. Earnings for truck drivers vary by industry segment with the median hourly rates for the industries employing the largest number of drivers/sales persons being:

IndustryMedian Hourly Rate Specialty food stores $14.98 Dry cleaning and laundry services $14.74 Grocery and related product wholesalers $12.66 Linen service $6.78 Full-service restaurants $6.47

Training and Education Required to Become a Truck Driver

A high school degree is not absolutely required to become a truck driver, but it is strongly preferred. State and Federal regulations govern the qualifications to become a truck driver. In many states, a regular driver's license is all that is necessary to drive light trucks and vans. Drivers of heavy trucks, those of 26,000 pounds GVW or more, or drivers of hazardous cargos, must obtain a commercial driver's license (CDL) from the state in which they reside. To obtain a CDL, an individual must pass a written test on rules and regulations, and then demonstrate that they can operate a commercial truck safely.

The U.S. DOT has further requirements for drivers engaged in interstate commerce (drivers who drive trucks across state lines). Such drivers must be at least 21 years old. They must also pass a physical every two years (20/40 vision, not color blind, adequate hearing, normal use of limbs, no epilepsy or insulin-controlled diabetes).

Federal law also requires that drivers submit to alcohol and drug tests as a condition of employment. Random drug testing is also required.

Interstate commerce drivers must also pass a written test on the Motor Carrier Safety Regulations of the U.S. DOT.

Most individuals who wish to obtain a CDL get their training from a public or private vocational/technical school that offers a tractor-trailer driver program. The Professional Truck Driver Institute (PDTI) certifies driver training programs offered by schools. An individual wishing to drive for a particular company should check that they will accept the training from a particular truck driver training program. Many companies also give new drivers some informal training that is usually only a couple of hours in duration. New drivers may also ride with experienced drivers before being assigned their own runs. Additional training may be offered by companies to operate specialized trucks or handle hazardous materials.

Click here for information on Truck Driving Schools and the programs that they offer.

Truck Driver Employment

In 2002, there were about 3.2 million truck drivers in the United States. Of this, almost 88% were truck drivers, and the remainder were drivers/sales workers. The truck transportation industry employs over 25% of all truck drivers. The remainder work for many different industries. Over 10% of truck drivers are self-employed.

Truck Driver Job Outlook

The need for truck drivers is expected to grow as fast as the average for all occupations over most of the next decade. The demand for driver/sales workers is expected to grow more slowly than the average over the same period of time.