So, You Want To Be A Truck Driver. Where To Start

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(Last Updated On: February 14, 2018)

 

Lifestyle

There is a process to follow to get into the truck driving job. In the next few articles, I’ll be explaining that process and questions you should ask as you proceed through the process. Let’s get started.

The first thing you must do is consider what sacrifices you will have to make if you plan on driving over the road, which is the term for long distance.Truck3

First thing, are you willing to sacrifice by not being home for some family events, like birthdays, or a child’s school activity? Are you willing to work whatever hours are necessary to do the job or do you want to work specific hours? Do you want to have to deal with unpredictable weather conditions? Do you want to live in the small spaces of a truck? These are just a few things to think about but they have to be considered. If you answer no to any of them then this job would not be for you.

Truck driving is a job but, even more, it is truly a lifestyle. Once you get settled in and understand how your company works, the job itself isn’t that hard. The lifestyle is what drives most new people out of the business. As a trainer, I saw how some of my trainees suffered from “culture shock” after a while. It was nothing like they imagined. But this is a topic schools and recruiters won’t discuss. Schools are only set up to teach only what you need to know to get your license, nothing more. Recruiters are there to get people into the company. I won’t say recruiters lie, per se, but they do tend to be vague and obfuscate. So you won’t find out about this until you’re actually hired and obligated to the company.

Trucking is an erratic business. You don’t work a steady schedule every day. One day you may deliver at 6:00 A.M. then the next load you get may deliver at 6:00 PM. Some loads, particularly frozen foods, tend to deliver around midnight. So you must consider if you are going to be able to work erratic hours.

Long hours are another consideration. Some days may be short, for example, you have a Monday morning delivery but Sunday you are 300 miles away so you drive 6 hours or so and park until Monday. Other days you may be using every minute of the 11 hours you are allowed to drive. Another example of the erratic nature of the business. Do you feel you could deal with that?

You may or may not have heard drivers talk about only working certain hours every day. Well, you can try that but the company may not like it, but even more important, you will be severely limiting the amount of money you can make. The smart thing to do is take every load you’re assigned, regardless of how it needs to be scheduled to run. Most of the drivers that complain about not making any money are doing something that is causing it then putting the blame on the company.

Healthy eating is hard to do. With the limited number of places you can take a truck, you are more or less captive to truck stop food. All the big chains have things like McDonald’s, Subway, Denny’s, Popeyes, and places like that. Not exactly conducive to healthy eating. Sometime when you’re out and about, take a look at how many truck stops are conveniently located someplace where there are no other eating establishments around. This is intentional. Many truck stops now do sell fruit and salad though the salad isn’t exactly fresh, but you won’t be able to eat healthy every day.

Other Things To Consider

Trucks that companies supply are equipped with Qualcomm or something similar. This is the communication center, where you receive your load information, communicate with the company, do your log, etc. However, it is also a way for the company to monitor you. Basically, you are being watched all the time. I never had a problem with that because they had no reason to be constantly nagging me. I just did my job and they left me alone. Driver’s who tend to slack off, are late for appointments frequently, etc., will be constantly receiving messages. After a while, those drivers will be out of work. But would you have a problem knowing you’re being monitored?

Do you suffer from road rage? If so, I can tell you now that you do not want to do this career. Automobiles will definitely do stupid things around trucks but you can’t get aggressive or try to play “payback”. Someone will get injured or killed, not to mention if the police catch you driving aggressively it could very possibly result in jail time.

When operating a truck you can not use the same bad habits you do in a car. For all intents and purposes, the truck and trailer have a big target on them for the police to see. Cars can get away with a lot more than a truck can. One prime example is the use of a cell phone. It is illegal for a person driving a commercial vehicle to be holding a cell phone. Here is how it’s stated by the FMCSA.

A new FMCSA rule restricts the use of all hand-held mobile devices by drivers of commercial motor vehicles.

  • Using at least one hand to hold a mobile phone to make a call;
  • Dialing a mobile phone by pressing more than a single button; or
  • Reaching for a mobile phone in a manner that requires a driver to maneuver so that he or she is no longer in a seated driving position, restrained by a seat belt.

The fine for an individual who is caught the first time is $2,750 and, for the company, $11,000. Continued violations will result in being disqualified to drive. But you can bet if the company receives an $11,000 fine they will terminate you. If you are involved in an accident and it is discovered you were handling a cell phone, automatic prison time.

Most companies have a rule allowing the use of headsets to talk on the phone, but the FMCSA regulation also permits usage of headsets.

I mention this now because if you don’t feel you can drive without holding your phone then you do not want this career. Sooner or later you will get caught.

Radar detectors are illegal in commercial vehicles. Many scale houses now have detectors that tell them if you have a detector, even if it’s off.

Are your communication skills sufficient? You don’t need to be a Shakespeare, but your ability to communicate is important when dealing with the company and with customers. If you tend to have an aggressive approach, that will lead to nothing but trouble. The other thing is that you can not let people get to you and react to their attitude while you’re in their presence. I ran across a few customers that were downright nasty but my response was to keep my mouth shut and then say what I had to say to them once I got out in the truck. If necessary, I would let my driver manager know what happened. Customer service is a big thing with trucking companies so you can not take matters into your own hands.

I’ve seen some drivers react to situations with a customer but the customer’s reaction was to make them wait even longer. The customer determines how fast you get loaded or unloaded, so being a problem will only affect you. If you have another load you have to pick up, and you give a customer grief which results in you being delayed longer, you could very well lose the next load.

If you are the type of person who can deal with irritable people then you can handle this part of the job.

These are most of the really important things to consider before you decide to go further in the process. If any of these things are unacceptable then go no further.

If you feel this is something you really want to do I recommend reading the CDL Study Guide 2018.

 


 

If anyone can think of other things, feel free to comment.

The next article will be about truck driving schools, and what to watch out for.

More posts by Dennis

 

 

 

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28 Thoughts to “So, You Want To Be A Truck Driver. Where To Start”

  1. Warren G.

    I know some people who got into it out of desperation but it didn’t work out for them. It’s not a miracle solution to money problems and will add problems on top of the ones you’re trying to fix, like not being home for long periods of time.

  2. Kindred Spirit

    I don’t drive a truck because of physical disabilities but I don’t know if I’d be willing to sacrifice my family time. That would be so hard to do. Looking at all the things to consider it isn’t something to decide quickly. There is so many sacrifices a trucker has to make. The QUALCOMM deal makes it sound like truckers don’t really have the freedom you hear so much about. Even they have someone constantly looking over their shoulder. Eating healthy is another thing. I read a story in the forums about using a slow cooker to cook on the truck. I didn’t know that was possible but if I did drive I would use one most of the time so I could make food I like. Than you for this informative post.

  3. Dean

    This is probably a silly question, but I wonder if driver’s schedules are really that tight. I can understand that timing often works against us on important dates, but can we request time off for certain days if necessary? I suppose the number of breaks are limited, though.

    1. Dennis

      You earn a day off for every week you work so once you build them up you can ask for time off. I had over 90 days off saved up so when I felt myself getting worn down I would just ask for 5-7 days home. Each week, if you work hard, you should be able to get a 34 hour restart in but in most companies using e-logs, since they can see your logs, they won’t “allow” you time off if you have enough hours available to work. That’s one of the issues I had that went into my decision to retire. I told them I’m not a machine and if I’m tired, I’m tired. Once the machine started driving the truck then they could have it work all the time but I will take a break when I feel I need one.They didn’t like it so I told them I was going to retire. 🙂

      1. Dean

        I’m sorry to hear about that. Maybe they had cases where drivers slack off often with such schedule. But you’re right, humans don’t work like machines so a break every once in a while is natural. As long as we fulfill the hours required and have good track reviews, it shouldn’t be a problem.

        1. Dennis

          You’re right. I wasn’t a slacker and I had over 10 years of track record with that company to prove it, but it didn’t matter.

  4. malcolm

    What a concise article! I would want to be a truck driver but I now understand the extent of the sacrifices to be made. I really value family but I guess sacrifices have to be made all the time.

    Drivers are always screaming at each other on the highways all the time but road rage is something that people can learn to control.

    1. Dennis

      We all get angry on the road with all the stupid things people do but you’re correct. It’s how you channel the anger that’s important. In a truck, you can’t become a weapon, that’s for sure.

      Thanks for the comment.

  5. swangirl

    Thank you for this information. This is a great list of all the aspects that many people probably haven’t thought of! My husband has toyed with the idea of getting into truck driving. I will show him your site.

    I know it would not be for me. I would not want to be monitored all the time. Not because I want to break the rules, I am just used to being independent as I grew up in the bush where you are your own boss in every way! I also would not be able to handle the crazy hours and bad food options.

    It sounds like you know your stuff!

    1. Dennis

      You aren’t kidding about the bad food choices. 🙂

      I carried a microwave and had a refrigerator and that helped some.

      And you’re right about the hours. Some drivers will only work certain hours but that really hurts their mileage and then they complain about how they aren’t making any money.

      People think part of the glamour of trucking is the ‘freedom’ you have but there isn’t much any more thanks to all the electronics. You have everyone and their mother keeping an eye on you, BUT, if you do your job the way it should be done you will rarely hear from anyone.

      Thanks for the comment.

    2. Prince

      I wonder why there are not many cheap, decent restaurants for the drivers. I even thought that if I were to be a driver, I’d just invest on good food regardless of the price. But maybe that’s not a good idea. Although with microwave and refrigerator, I suppose the choices are also limited?

      1. Dennis

        If you have a microwave, refrigerator and/or crock pot you can make yourself really good full meals at a much cheaper price. Just go to a grocery store, buy food you like and cook it when you’re ready.

        I’d recommend at least the micro and fridge. They come in real handy when you’re stuck at a customer or parked away from anyplace to buy something to eat on your ten hour (or more) break or if weather suddenly has you parking in some rest area for an extended period. You can go through a LOT of money on food when taking breaks at truck stops.

    3. jayden

      Truck driving is not for everyone and woe unto the person that ventures into this career without giving much thought about what is entailed. This website is very resourceful and my cousin often checks it out as he is a new truck driver looking to learn the basics really quickly.

      1. Dennis

        Your cousin is more than welcome to use our question area to ask questions and if I can’t help I’m sure someone can.

        You definitely want to know as much as you can before you get into it.

  6. Tim

    Great article very well written. You make a lot of great points about being a truck driver. Like for example if you have a issue with aggressive driving truck driving isn’t for you. If you can’t drive without your cellphone in hand then truck driving isn’t for you because if you cause a accident and it is proven that you were using your cellphone that’s prison time. Your a intelligent man about the trucking industry. I can tell because of the above information and that you talk about basically if you’re a person that doesn’t want to miss events and whatnot in your family and life being a truck driver isn’t a good job for you. I like the fact to that you give people a heads up that are looking to get into driving truck about radar detectors being totally illegal in commercial trucks. Thanks I enjoyed reading it.

    1. Dennis

      Thanks for the kind words.

      It’s true that people can’t go out and drive a truck like they would a car. Those trucks and trailers have a big target on them that the police are always looking for. You just can’t get away with things that a car driver can. We are supposed to be ‘professionals’ and should know better.

  7. JeffWA

    Hi,
    What a truly educational article that you wrote which truly provided comprehensive details on what it takes to be a truck driver. I remember as a young kid spending one summer with relatives being spell-bound by all of the trucks that rumbled just up the street from our house. At the time, (early 60’s) they did this to avoid the highway toll booth a mile or so up from our house, getting off of and later back onto the interstate to save toll-fare money.

    In fact I’ve heard that driving a truck for a living definitely is not an easy job. But the fact is that our country relies heavily on truckers to move products that we as people need – food being the prime example.

    I hope that I’m not naive with this statement but I always thought that there was a law in place which did not permit any trucker working for a company in the U.S. from working a certain number of consecutive hours during a job? You mentioned 11 hours, but I thought, obviously incorrectly, that it was less than that?

    Along with that one of the big problems with truckers on the road is the absolute disrespect that they are subjected to by idiot car/motorcycle drivers – reckless and aggressive who think that they own the roads. These idiots think they can get into some sort of “whose chicken” game driving their little 4 cylinder vehicles against a multi-ton 18 wheeler.

    I commend you, sir for taking the time to write such a detailed article. It accurately displayed to any reader interested in pursuing this line of work as to exactly what he/she would be getting him/herself into as a professional truck driver.

    Jeff

    1. Dennis

      Funny you should mention the hours just now. On May 17 I wrote an blog about the hours of service regulations. Here is the link.

      Hours Of Service And Legal Issues

      It is because of how people drive around trucks that makes it so important that truck drivers pay attention to what’s going on around them, not to their cell phone, etc. I can certainly understand why car drivers don’t want to drive around or behind a truck. I know if there was a slow one in front of me I wanted to get away from them. But why people insist on cutting in front of us and slamming on their brakes, etc., is beyond me.

      If defensive driving was ever a necessity, for a truck driver it is critical.

      Thanks for the remark.

  8. Suzette

    Hi Dennis, When my sister and I were much younger, we always fantasised about being truck drivers. We thought it would be so cool to be able to see different places and meet lots of new people. Then we began to drive! To this day, I hate to drive!

    My oldest sister’s husband drove over the road when they first started a family. He was never home with them.

    In this day and age, I think another thing to be concerned about would be safety. What are most companies policies on have a concealed weapon or open carry permit while driving?

    You mentioned the use of cell phones. I personally don’t think anyone has any business using a cell phone while driving.

    Although my passion for truck driving went out the window a very long time ago, I found this article along with the whole site very informative and interesting.

    I have great respect for truck drivers and appreciate what they do. God bless you and protect you all!

    1. Dennis

      Thanks for your respect for truckers out there. They work hard and make a lot of sacrifices.

      As far as weapons, companies will tell their drivers that weapons on a commercial vehicle are illegal. In fact, that is not true. You can carry a weapon. The catch is, even though you have a permit, that permit may not be accepted in all 48 states so you need to know where it’s ok and where it isn’t. If you go to Canada weapons are not allowed, period. So you take a chance carrying a gun. Most companies I know of have a company policy forbidding carrying a gun. I don’t know why they are scared to tell their drivers it’s a company policy instead of claiming it’s illegal.

      However, if you have something job related that can also be used for a weapon, that’s good. I had a really long crowbar that I used for pulling nails from the trailer floor without having to bend over. That could be sa weapon in the right situation. Other little thing like having WD-40 for loosening rusty bolts and such can be used to spray in someone’s eyes. Just little things like those. Heck, even a cat can make a good weapon if you throw it at someone’s face. That cat will grab onto the face in a heartbeat. lol

      As far as family, it’s not an ideal job for people with young families, that’s for sure. I’ve always considered it a job for older folks. Most people I’ve met, while I was a trainer, who are in their 20’s just aren’t prepared for all the sacrifices you need to make.

      Thanks for the comment.

  9. Michael Baker

    Hi There,

    Very interesting article about – So, You Want To Be A Truck Driver. Where To Start! I have been looking into this as a possible career for myself but I am not sure all of your articles point are applicable to the UK, but saying that valuable information which will enable me to look further into long term lorry/truck driving and hopefully being able to afford my own rig in years to come! Once again great and interesting article and I will be book marking your website for future reference. Regards, Michael

    1. Dennis

      Yeah, my expertise certainly isn’t the UK. However, there are some things all truckers experience and I’m sure as time goes by I’ll hit on some of them.

      I’d really enjoy hearing from truckers around the world and learning things about their jobs, laws and experiences. Trucking is a passion of mine and I think that would be a lot of fun.

      Join our forum and share your experiences if you get into it. I’d love to hear about how you get trained and how companies over there do things. It may give me some ideas on things to write about in the future. I also think other drivers would find it interesting.

  10. Edwin

    This post really covers some really goods points, but I need to say that getting your CDL license doesn’t limit you to just to tractor trailer driving.

    It open a lot more doors, but all the things you mentioned still apply.

    I like driving, but i don’t think I can handle the hours and just being alone for so long.

    1. Dennis

      You are correct that a CDL can open many opportunities.

      A CDL comes in two levels. The class B is for smaller trucks and commercial vehicles and the class A for the combination vehicles. Of course, a class A opens more than the class B but both are good depending on what an individual wants to do.

      There are also endorsements you can add to those licenses to further open opportunities.

      T: Double/Triple Trailers (requires a knowledge test).
      P: Passenger Vehicles (requires both a knowledge and a skills test).
      N: Tank Vehicles (requires a knowledge test).
      H: Hazardous Materials (requires a knowledge test and the Homeland Security background check).
      X: Tank Vehicle/Hazardous Materials Combination (same requirements).
      S: School Bus (requires both a knowledge and a skills test).

      Thanks for the comment and pointing that out.

  11. Monkey Man

    Hey Dennis,

    There was a time in my life where I wanted to hit the road for about 10 years to stack away some money but ultimately decided it wasn’t for me. I had some back problems from a past hernia that I didn’t want to aggrevate which was my reason for passing on it. Do you have any information on how to be a freight broker? That may suite me better, thanks!

    1. Dennis

      Brokerage is a bit out of my expertise but I can give you a link to get some information if you’re considering starting your own brokerage.

      Freight Broker Startup Guide

      There are many independent brokerages out there already, C.H. Robinson being one. Also, quite a few big trucking companies have brokerages so you could look into those if that’s what you want.

      Sorry about your physical issues. The job does wreak havoc on the body.

  12. Valerie

    This is very important information! People see the dollar signs in the trucking industry and think, ‘I can drive, I can do this’. It is so much more than that! First, driving a tractor/trailer is a whole lot different than driving a car. The laws are different and the sacrifices large. I grew up with drivers in my family. One horrifying memory I have is asking my mom who my dad was once because I hadn’t seen him for so long (I was quite small). It’s a tough and lonely job with a lot riding on it (no pun intended). Thank you for bringing the not-so-glamorous parts to light.

    1. Dennis

      People think it’s a glamorous life. It isn’t. People think truck drivers make a lot of money. At first, that is nowhere near the truth. Even later on, how much you make is determined by how hard you are willing to work. Limiting yourself to certain hours of the day will never result in a lot of money, a lot being a relative term. But recruiters do their thing and make new people believe they will be rolling in money.

      The job is terribly hard on marriages and relationships. It’s also hard on health. It is a hard job so people who think they can come in and goof off or be lazy will never succeed.

      It’s always interesting hearing from people who have either driven or have someone they know who has.

      Thanks for your comment.

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