Becoming a truck driver has always seemed like a great way to make money while experiencing life on the road. Many are drawn to truck driving because of the flexibility and freedom of the position.
Currently, truck drivers haul 72.5% of the entire nation’s cargo, and freight tonnage is expected to grow by 24% through 2022. This means there will be an increased demand for new drivers. Are you looking to join the workforce that’s more than 3-million-people strong?
In this guide, we’ll cover the pros and cons of truck driving, how to become a truck driver, and what you need to know before you take a career on the road.
What is Truck Driving?
There are lots of types of truck driving in the USA. Not all drivers haul massive 18-wheelers, but the typical mental picture of a big rig cruising down an open highway is a reality for many.
Commercial truck driving involves hauling large quantities of products in bulk (called “freight”) from one destination to another. Some drivers specialize in particular fields, like construction or agriculture, and haul heavy machinery, materials, and equipment rather than retail goods.
Everything you see in a store, the food you order at a restaurant, and even the supplies doctors use to treat patients all got there thanks to truck drivers.
These individuals are essential to the American public, and from a larger standpoint, the global economy. Think about all the goods that are made overseas and sold regularly on American shelves.
If you want a flexible, open career that allows you to operate independently, then this could be the right field for you.
How to Become a Truck Driver?
First things first, you have to be at least 18 years old. This will allow you to operate within your state. If you want to take on higher paying jobs across state lines, then you’ll need to be at least 21 years old.
You’ll also need:
- A clean driving history (no DUIs, at-fault accidents, violations, etc.)
- Proof of residence. Utility bills are the most common.
- A valid photo ID and proof of your date of birth.
- A social security number.
- Proof of insurance.
- The ability to pass routine drug screenings and physical exams.
You’ll also need to earn your CDL. This is your commercial driver’s license, which allows you to operate heavy vehicles, like tractors, semis, and flatbeds. Depending on your CDL class, you can drive different types of large vehicles with GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) ranging from 8,000 pounds to over 30,000 pounds.
Anyone who wants to become a truck driver must complete training through a recognized program. The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Association (FMCSA) requires truck-drivers-to-be to complete entry-level driver training (ELDT) before they can earn their CDL at their local DMV.
To break down the pathway to trucking more, here’s a basic rundown of what you’ll need to do before you can start working.
How to Become a Truck Driver in 6 Steps
- Earn Your High School Diploma or GED
You must be at least 18 and have a diploma or GED before you can become a commercial truck driver. If you want to haul cargo across state lines, then you’ll need to be at least 21.
- Get a Valid Driver’s License.
You have to hold a regular driver’s license in your state before you can apply for a commercial one. Your license must also have a clean record, meaning you haven’t committed any accidents, violations, or other road crimes within the last 7 years.
Carriers (trucking companies) also run criminal background checks on all their applicants.
- Start Training.
Sign up for trucking school to begin learning everything you need to know about working as a commercial driver. This includes how to safely operate large vehicles as well as all the equipment and tools you need to deliver freight.
There are many entry-level driver training (ELDT) programs available, but make sure yours is accredited through your state’s DMV. You can check for truck schools near you online, as well as many community colleges.
Trucking school lasts around a year and costs between $1,000 to over $12,000. This all depends on where you study and the average cost in your state.
- Pass a Medical Test and Drug Screening
Truck drivers must all pass a medical exam and receive a DOT Medical Examiner’s Certificate before they can legally operate. It’s best to acquire this before your road test to avoid being turned down at the DMV.
- Get Your CDL
You’re likely wondering, “What is the process of getting your CDL license?” The answer varies a bit by state. You’ll need to follow your DMV’s regulations to get your CDL license.
There are three classes of CDL licenses you can apply for:
- Class A: Vehicles with a combined weight of up to 26,000 pounds, usually trailers or tow trucks.
- Class B: Single vehicles weighing up to 26,000 pounds, not including their additional weight from attached vehicles.
- Class C: Commercial vehicles that carry 16 or more passengers or vehicles that transport hazardous materials.
You’ll need to apply for a commercial learner’s permit, get insurance, and provide proof of your training before you can earn your CDL. Most CDL licenses cost between $20 to $120 depending on your DMV.
Insurance requirements will vary by state, so make sure you check commercial truck insurance requirements in your state. However, you may still need to carry your own liability coverage, personal injury coverage, and non-trucking liability policy.
- Join Job Boards
You can sign up for trucking job boards (called load boards) to start finding work. Many carriers post there looking for drivers to transport their freight or cargo. You can also apply directly to companies hiring part-time or full-time truck drivers on regular job boards.
Pros & Cons of Becoming a Truck Driver
Truck driving is a unique career that appeals to a wide range of people. There are single female drivers in their 20s, married people in their 40s, and parents of children of all ages on the road.
But trucking has unique challenges and setbacks that make it a difficult job for some to fulfill. Let’s compare some of the pros and cons before you get into trucking.
Benefits of Being a Truck Driver
The benefits of being a truck driver include a flexible schedule, a high salary, job security, good benefits, and plenty of room to customize your career.
You don’t need a college degree, and aside from training, there are no additional certifications required to work. It provides an easy start to a profitable career that keeps you on the road and introduces you to many different locations.
If you prefer to work alone, there are few jobs that can compare to the freedom and independence of being a truck driver.
Cons of Being a Truck Driver
Some of the challenges of being a truck driver include loneliness, the risk of a sedentary lifestyle, physical demands, and a lot of time away from home. For an active, single person, truck driving can be an adventurous career that allows them to easily travel and see new locations.
For someone who wants to be close to their family, trucking can result in weeks or months away from home with minimal rest. There are some programs that allow truckers to bring a partner, family member, or even a pet with them for jobs to help combat road isolation, though.
The physical demands of trucking can also be difficult for some. Even if you pass your DOT medical exam, chronic driving can lead to back problems and knee pain.
Driving Hazards and Risks Associated With Truck Driving
Hazards associated with driving trucks are part of the job. Knowing them, and taking preventative measures, can help you lower your risk.
Some of the biggest risks associated with truck driving include health problems and driving hazards.
Because they spend so long on the road, truck drivers are at a higher risk of becoming overweight. High body mass index (BMI) from obesity can put you at risk for a number of health conditions, including:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Certain types of cancer
- Sleep apnea
Even drivers who are not overweight can suffer from the effects of sitting most of their waking hours. This can also put them at a higher risk of mental health issues, namely depression.
It’s important for drivers to have a healthy schedule that gives them plenty of time off as well as a work-life balance.
As far as other hazards, driving risks include collisions, shoulder injuries, slip-and-fall incidents, and injury from equipment and trucking machinery. Driving long hours and in poor weather can also increase the likelihood of an accident.
However, there are many programs in place to protect drivers’ well-being. Good carriers also go above and beyond to make sure that their drivers are taken care of on the road. It’s also important to be an advocate for your health.
Why You Should Consider Becoming a Truck Driver
Becoming a truck driver offers plenty of freedom, independence, and a competitive salary. You can also expand your options by one day owning your own truck — or even an entire fleet.
With increased job opportunities and steady workflow, trucking offers reliability and security in even the most strained economies. If you are interested in a job that lets you experience new places, work alone, and earn a good living, then consider taking the next steps to earn your CDL.
Once you’ve started your journey you’ll eventually want to explore ways to reduce your office time, whether as an owner-operator or as a company driver looking to help the boss find better ways to manage the back end. Truckbase is a solution more and more truckers are moving to. To learn more about how we’re able to reduce your admin time, schedule a demo today!