by Joseph Knox
Truck driving careers are growing at a steady rate. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012) projects that employment in both heavy truck driving and delivery truck driving is expected to grow by about 20 percent and 15 percent, respectively, from 2010 to 2020. Supply chains must accommodate rising demands for products and commodities, subsequently increasing the need for qualified truck drivers to transport the burgeoning load of materials and goods. In some regions of the U.S., specifically areas in the northwest, heavy truck driving careers rank as high as second in terms of professions most in demand.
A heavy truck driver spends a majority of his or her time driving long distances, loading and unloading cargo, and ensuring that their truck and equipment is in proper working order. In short, heavy truck drivers move goods and commodities from one place to another. These drivers operate trucks with capacities surpassing 26,000 pounds. Conversely, delivery truck drivers operate vehicles with weights of 26,000 pounds or less. Delivery truckers pick up, transport, and drop off packages and supplies, usually within a small district or metropolitan area.
Many opportunities are available for individuals interested in beginning a career in the industry. Versatile training programs offer individuals a chance to branch out into other related areas as well, such as bus driving.
Before deciding to pursue a truck driving career, consider the following questions:
- What are the main job functions?
- What types of truck driving programs and courses are available?
- What are the requirements for obtaining a CDL?
- What are the post-CDL license requirements?
- What are the health and other important requirements for this position?
- What is the typical job environment?
- What traits do successful truck drivers possess?
- What are the pay statistics of truck drivers?
- What is the future growth potential?
- Are there associations to join?
- What other prospective career paths are available after completing a truck driving program?
- Additional truck driving career resources
In order to gain a better understanding of the skills and qualifications expected from potential employers, read through CareerColleges.com's interview with industry expert, Thom Pronk. Prospective truck drivers can also uncover daily job responsibilities as well as tips and quirks in our interview with professional truck driver, David Price.
What are the main truck driving job functions?
Heavy truck drivers, especially those who drive long-haul, spend a majority of their shifts on the road. There are a handful of other tasks, though, that often need to be completed by both heavy and delivery truckers throughout a shift. While core tasks make up the bulk of these activities, supplemental duties are very relevant to the functions of a driver’s job. Prospective students must not only be aware of everyday duties, they must also be able to perform these rigorous tasks as well:
Check trucks to make certain that all gear is in proper working order.
Move trucks into loading and unloading positions while following signals from the crew.
Follow appropriate safety procedures for transporting dangerous goods.
Examine vehicle supplies, such as gasoline, oil, and tires.
Present invoice statements and receipts and gather payments for deliveries.
Report information relating to traffic, delays, or obstructions impacting routes and commutes.
While the functions above relate mostly to truck drivers operating company vehicles, independent truck drivers operating their own vehicles may perform other distinct labor. For instance, independent truckers rely heavily on middlemen who match them up with shippers. Once matched, independent drivers must organize, load, unload, and deliver goods largely autonomously.
What types of truck driving schools and courses are available?
With an array of heavy truck driving programs available, students can take advantage of many unique opportunities. Because all heavy truck drivers are required to hold a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in order to begin and maintain their careers, curriculum and training are designed specifically to prepare students to pass the state-issued, CDL licensing examination. These programs typically require anywhere between 80 to 730 clock, or credit, hours and span between two weeks and six months. Lengthier programs provide as much as two months of on-the-job training, functioning similarly to an apprentice program, where novices learn the ropes from experienced drivers. Shorter programs may not have on-the-job training, possibly leaving individuals with a deficiency in some areas. Additionally, shorter programs may not be held in as high of regard as lengthier ones in the eyes of some companies. Many programs are also flexible, offering day, evening, and weekend classes to meet the various needs of students. Completion of a CDL program generally acknowledges that a student has been presented the essential skills needed to increase his or her chances of succeeding in the profession.
Most truck driving schools offer programs that consist of a mixture of in-classroom and hands-on training. Procedures and regulations are taught in a traditional classroom, whereas behind-the-wheel training is taught on the road or through simulation practices. Virtual simulations present prospective drivers with opportunities to become skilled in many critical aspects of truck driving: shifting, reversing, and managing space. Coursework covers a variety of relevant topics, such as defensive driving, skid avoidance, and operation of heavy trailer equipment.
Delivery truck drivers, on the other hand, are required to hold a driver’s license in their state of employment. Often, companies supply on-the-job training following the hiring process in order to accustom new drivers to the day-to-day operations. In contrast to heavy truck driving, no supplementary schooling or special licensing is necessary for individuals hoping to become a delivery driver.
What are the requirements for obtaining a CDL license?
To qualify for a CDL, an individual must have both a valid social security card and a non-commercial driver’s license issued from the state in which he or she hopes to work. The majority of states mandate that drivers be at least 18 years old when driving within the state in which the CDL was obtained. Some states, however, may have lower or higher age requirements. Maine, for instance, only requires individuals to be 16 years of age to obtain a CDL, whereas Hawaii requires persons to be at least 21 years old. For drivers traveling across state lines, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSA) requires truck drivers to be at least 21 years of age. Interstate travel also falls under the jurisdiction and regulation of the federal government.
According to the FMCSA, the current federal standard requires states to test and distribute a CDL to truck drivers according to specific license classifications. Presently there are three central classifications associated with heavy truck driving:
- Class A: Allows the operation of any size or combinations of vehicles, given proper credentials.
- Class B: Allows the operation of any single vehicle, or any vehicle towing a trailer with a weight less than 10,000 pounds.
- Class C: Allows the operation of a vehicle weighing less than 26,001 pounds carrying 16 or more people, including the driver. Additionally, it allows a driver to operate an identical vehicle transporting hazardous material.
Trucks that do not fall under one of the mentioned categories do not require a CDL. Accordingly, delivery truck drivers are not mandated to obtain a CDL prior to launching their careers.
While every state’s examination methods must meet the minimum Federal standards, individual states can develop their own tests. Every CDL assessment, however, must include both a knowledge test and skills test. Knowledge tests evaluate the technical and professional expertise of individuals, whereas skills tests assess an individual’s ability to perform the tangible duties associated with heavy truck driving.
In order to pass a knowledge test, most states require candidates to answer at least 80 percent of the questions correctly. In the skills portion, individuals must test in the class of vehicle that they wish to obtain a license. For instance, to obtain a Class A license, individuals must test in a Class A vehicle. To ensure that all required skills are wholly demonstrated, skills tests are assessed in three separate parts:
- Pre-trip inspection: Individuals inspect the vehicle before driving it by identifying the various parts of the vehicle both verbally and physically.
- Off-street skills: Individuals perform a handful of maneuvers, such as driving both forward and in reverse through an offset alley, and also parallel parking in various conditions.
- On the road: Individuals drive through a variety of traffic and road environments. The examiner will evaluate a prospective truck driver's judgment, control, safe operation, and capability of shifting while following the rules of the road.
What are the post-CDL license requirements?
Once licensed, truck drivers assume the responsibility to renew their license when necessary. Most states require a heavy truck driver to go through a CDL renewal process every four to five years, with some states requiring additional renewal qualifications in special circumstances.
Heavy truck drivers who wish to operate a specialty vehicle must pass additional knowledge, skills, and/or relevant Transportation Security Administration (TSA) threat tests at a state-operated testing location. TSA threat tests assess an individual’s capability of properly reacting to, and handling a number of hazardous waste occurrences. Examples of hazardous waste include computer chips, paint, and an assortment of chemicals. Passing one or more of these tests grants drivers an endorsement, or special qualification, on his or her license. There are a handful of key endorsements:
- T: Double/triple trailers - Requires a knowledge test.
- P: Passenger - Requires both knowledge and skills tests.
- N: Tank vehicle - Requires knowledge test.
- H: Hazardous materials - Requires both knowledge and TSA threat assessment tests.
- X: Combination of tank vehicle and hazardous materials - Requires knowledge test.
- S: School bus - Requires knowledge and skills tests.
Many heavy trucks now come equipped with air breaks. If a driver does not complete the skills test in a vehicle outfitted with air brakes, the driver will be given an air brake restraint, and the driver will not be licensed to operate any commercial motor vehicle that is fitted with air brakes.
Individuals attempting to acquire or renew a CDL in a state different than the original issuing state are subject to screening procedures. A truck driver must clear a background check, which scrutinizes his or her driving records and possible criminal history, in order to obtain or renew a CDL in a different state.
New truck drivers should also be aware of liability issues. Both heavy and delivery truck drivers can be held accountable for damage to the contents of their freight, and truckers using company-licensed vehicles may be responsible for any vandalism done to the truck. Professional drivers often take advantage of insurance options to protect against damaged cargo and other defacing acts.
What are the health and other important requirements for this position?
Truck driving demands a level of physical prowess. Drivers need to pass physical examinations at least once every two years in order to ensure that their hearing is sufficient enough to hear a forced whisper in one ear from five feet away (with or without a hearing aid), that their eyesight is minimally 20/40 (with glasses or corrective lens, if applicable), and that they can distinguish between the colors of a stoplight.
Also, all truck drivers in the U.S. must be capable of speaking and reading English well enough to understand and abide by all road signs, arrange reports, and converse with third party agents when necessary. A heavy truck driver’s agenda may take them into Canada or Mexico for a stint of time, in which case they must be able to abide by those countries’ standards and regulations as well. While passports may be required for entering either of these countries regularly, a CDL, along with another form of identification verifying U.S. citizenship, may be used in lieu of a passport while working. Mexico holds the power to insist on a drug test or language assessment of any driver entering the country before they are scheduled to arrive.
Additionally, prospective truck drivers must have never been convicted of a drug offense or a felony involving a motor vehicle, such as driving under the influence or a hit-and-run. Such felonies disqualify individuals from obtaining a CDL, and consequently prohibit them from acquiring a truck driving job. While delivery job requirements may not be as strict in regard to driving records, such offenses may prevent individuals from obtaining a position with some employers.
What is the typical truck driving job environment?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), as of 2010, 1.6 million individuals across the U.S. were employed in the general heavy truck driving sector. Some industries, however, comprise a higher proportion of truck drivers than others:
General freight trucking
Specialized freight trucking
As of 2010 about 856,000 individuals held positions as delivery truck drivers. Like heavy trucking, some fields employed more drivers than others:
Couriers and messengers
Heavy truck driving careers, particularly long-haul careers, present positive opportunities to individuals, such as regular traveling, flexible schedules, and the chance to enjoy several days off at a time. However, heavy truckers who drive long-haul can be away from home for days and weeks at a time, sometimes even working on holidays.
Much of a heavy truck driver’s day is spent alone and the long hours of driving can understandably grow tiring. As a result, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration standardizes the amount of hours a truck driver may work in a given timeframe. A truck driver cannot work more than 14 hours in a single day, 60 hours in seven days, or 70 hours in eight days. Truck drivers who are on the road for long hours or for days at a time must take a 10 hour “sleeper berth,” though the entire 10 hours is rarely ever dedicated to just sleeping. Drivers often use a portion of this time to shower, grab a meal, and even exercise before heading back to their trucks for a few hours of sleep. Truck drivers must record all of their hours, including their “sleep berth,” in a logbook.
Delivery truck drivers frequently work the same routes each day. Accordingly, this often requires drivers to begin work very early in the morning or very late in the evening. For instance, delivery drivers who distribute bread to a deli must arrive and unload supplies before the deli opens for business.
While heavy truck driving careers do not require much outside communications, a delivery trucker’s day-to-day operations do, both with persons within the company, such as supervisors and peers, as well as individuals outside of the company. Inside the company, truckers regularly communicate with managers, divulging scheduling information and specific whereabouts. Outside interaction by phone, email, or in person is also common, specifically with clients and other agents.
Finally, heavy truck drivers also work in an industry that requires some of the most physical demands on the body. From loading and unloading cargo to sitting stationary for hours, truck drivers submit themselves to quite a bit of bodily stress. As a result, truck drivers have a higher risk of physical injury than many other occupations.
What traits do successful truck drivers possess?
Though there are numerous traits that would benefit a truck driver, some personal capabilities are essential for success in the industry:
- Exhibit good self control, keep composure, keep emotions in check, and control anger when on the road or conversing with peers, even under the most taxing of circumstances.
- Be able to accept criticism from superiors and trainers.
- Be adaptable and flexible, all while staying open to change, as day-to-day activities often vary.
What is the median truck driver salary?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), as of 2011, the median salary of heavy truck drivers is $37,930, with the bottom ten percent earning about $25,000 and the top ten percent earning about $57,500. Heavy truck drivers’ salaries are usually based upon how many miles they have driven.
The median salary of delivery truck drivers is $28,630, with the bottom ten percent earning about $18,000 and the top ten percent earning approximately $55,000.
Per-hour rates vary from company to company, with the median hourly wage sitting at $18.24 for heavy truck drivers and $13.98 for delivery drivers, according to bls.gov data.
Both salary and hourly compensation for independent truck drivers varies depending on the type of labor and the amount of time they work. Also, because independent truck drivers pay for their own diesel fuel, net income fluctuates accordingly with the price of gasoline.
Compensation can also differ depending on the conditions in which a truck driver is working. For instance, individuals who drive miles on frozen lakes and through harsh weather may be more generously compensated than comparable drivers traveling on paved roads in ideal climates.
The table below presents salary data for selected states that offer the highest pay for both heavy and delivery truck drivers. Refer to bls.gov for information on other states.
Median annual and hourly wages for heavy and delivery truck drivers:
Source: Heavy, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012; Delivery, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012
What is the future growth potential for truck driving careers?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012), employment in the heavy truck driving industry is growing faster than the average of all occupations--more than 649,000 new truck driver jobs are expected to become available between 2010 and 2020.
However, trucking professions may be negatively affected by outside factors. Railroad shipping has become more attractive to some companies as fuel prices rise, potentially limiting the number of truck drivers needed. Bls.gov indicates, however, that because trucks are more efficient for shorter distances, it is unlikely that railroad shipping will influence the industry in a major way.
Are there associations to join?
Professional drivers and individuals enrolled in truck driving schools or training programs are eligible for memberships with exclusive associations. Memberships within specific associations present a unique opportunity to connect with other individuals in the industry and to expand upon education in the field. There are many other benefits to joining an association, including:
- Foster partnerships between various stakeholders in the transportation industry through networking events, meetings, and newsletters.
- Have a voice in legislative matters relating to and affecting issues such as training programs offered to individuals in the industry.
- Receive discounts on industry-related products and services.
Requirements and benefits differ from organization to organization. America’s Independent Truckers’ Association, Inc. (AITA), for instance, is a well-known association that offers benefits to members of the transportation and agricultural industries. Perks range from tips on saving money to tangible materials that facilitate regular, everyday duties. Prospective truck drivers should research various potential associations to find ones that offer fitting membership options.
What other prospective career paths are available after completing truck driving school?
On top of CDL training, heavy truckers develop versatile skills that can carry over to other careers as well. There are many related occupations that may interest people who are attracted to the idea of working in the industry:
- Bus driver (transit, intercity, school, special client)
- Postal service workers
- Locomotive engineer
- Subway and streetcar operators
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Joseph is a content writer for CareerColleges.com, OnlineColleges.com, and OnlineDegrees.com. He received his Bachelor's degree in Journalism and Media Studies, with a minor in Educational Technology. He enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for sports and active living with others.