What Does a Truck Driver Do?
If you are inspired by the open road and the idea of working independently, here’s a job to consider.
Truck drivers — also known as truckers, tractor trailer drivers, long-haul drivers and over-the-road (OTR) drivers — transport cargo from one place to another, typically over long distances. They drive the iconic big rigs.
Unlike many other careers, long-haul driving isn’t simply a job; it’s a lifestyle. Truckers are often away from home for long periods of time, especially in the early years of their career. They see many parts of North America that others only dream of. That’s one of the reasons people are drawn to this line of work. But being on the road all the time isn’t for everyone.
Truck drivers are in constant demand because they help keep supply chains moving. The pandemic emphasized that fact, making this one of the most secure jobs around.
If this sounds like a good fit for you, keep reading to learn more.
- Inspect vehicle
- Drive long routes, often over state lines
- Secure cargo and maintain its safety during transport
- Take special precautions if transporting hazardous material
- Report any mechanical issues with the vehicle
- Follow all safety regulations and traffic laws
- Log all working hours
- Some drivers also help unload cargo
How To Become A Truck Driver: FAQs
What steps do I need to take?
First, you’ll need to earn a high school diploma or equivalent. (Most companies require it.)
Next, you’ll attend a professional truck driving school or training provided by a transportation company or community college. New federal rules require that entry-level drivers complete a program that includes theory and supervised, behind-the-wheel training. Programs must be approved and listed on the Training Provider Registry of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCS).
Programs will include transportation technology, rules of the road, essential truck mechanics, inspections, rigging, shifting and specific driving skills such as driving at night or during extreme weather.
To pay for your training, you may have several options. Some training companies don’t ask for payment up front but instead require a work commitment and deduct small amounts out of each paycheck. If you have military experience, you can get help paying for training through the GI Bill. Students can also get help finding financial aid for community college.
The next step is earning your Class A commercial driver’s license (CDL). You will need to have a valid regular driver’s license to start that process and get a commercial learner’s permit while you train. After you finish training, you’ll take an exam and a driving test.
Drivers who haul certain freight such as hazardous materials will also need to earn a special license endorsement code.
Finally, it’s time to get hired. Many drivers work for transportation companies or commercial fleets. Others work independently as owner-operators.
Truck driving may lead you to a related career such as being a diesel mechanic or working in logistics.
Are there any other qualifications?
You must be at least 18 years old in most states to earn your CDL. You must be at least 21 to be an interstate truck driver. (Younger drivers who have their CDL can drive within a state.)
You’ll also have to meet the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) physical fitness requirements and take the physical exam every two years.
Not surprisingly, you’ll need to have and to maintain a clean driving record. Many employers conduct background checks and will ask you to pass a drug and alcohol screening.
How long does it take to become a truck driver?
Training programs typically take from six weeks to 12 months, but they vary by provider. For example, some company-sponsored programs last six weeks while some community college programs may last as long as a year.
New drivers should expect to get between one and three months of on-the-job training.
This short turn-around time is one of the reasons for the allure of truck driving. It’s one of the fastest-routes to a skilled trade job.
What hours do truck drivers work?
Truckers should expect to work odd hours, including nights and weekends. A truck driver’s hours are regulated by federal rules, which require regular rest periods. The hours can be demanding and frequently involve overtime.
Is there a demand for truck drivers?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts steady growth in demand. It projects about 259,900 openings for tractor-trailer truck drivers each year between 2021 and 2031.
What skills and qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?
Successful truckers typically share these traits. They:
- Enjoy driving
- Don’t mind being away from home
- Can sit for long periods of time
- Have good hearing and vision
- Like being alone
- Have good hand-eye coordination and quick reaction times
- Are safety conscious