If you want to become a truck driver, you’re in for a treat. The open road offers plenty of opportunity for you to build your own career from the ground up. You can choose industries you’re passionate about, enjoy the freedom of driving cross-country or stay local and earn a living while supplying goods throughout your state.
Before you can get started, however, there is a lot of red tape to work through. Trucking is a highly regulated industry, and for good reason. Transporting 70% of the entire country’s goods means truck drivers are some of the most valuable and important workers in America. If you want to become a part of this $700-billion-dollar industry, this guide is for you. We’ll cover everything you need to know about how to become a truck driver.
Table of Contents:
- How old do you have to be to become a truck driver?
- Getting Your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)
- Medical Qualifications
- Background Check Requirements
- Educational Requirements
- FMCSA Checklist
- Becoming a Truck Driver
The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires truck drivers to be 18 years old for interstate transport and at least 21 years old for jobs across state lines (intrastate). If you want to become a truck driver but you are under 18, you will first have to earn a driver’s license and complete high school or your state’s general education requirements (GED).
How to Earn a CDL
The first step to becoming a truck driver is earning your commercial driver’s license. CDL training programs are taught at trucking schools and some community colleges. They take around 4 weeks to complete.
The FMCSA requires all new truck drivers to complete entry-level driver training at a reputable institution. Companies will now require you to have proof of your training to get hired. This is an integral safety and compliance measure on their end, but it benefits you as well.
After you complete training, you can take your state’s written knowledge exam and truck driving skills test. Once you pass, you will pay for your license and be ready to apply for your first jobs.
Look for CDL training schools near you to start comparing tuition rates and programs. There are many options available, but make sure that the school you choose meets the FMCSA requirements.
Pass a Medical Exam
New commercial drivers must pass a physical by a nationally certified medical examiner to prove they are fit for driving duty. Drivers must be physically and mentally capable of handling themselves in the road to protect themselves, passengers and other drivers.
When you apply for jobs, they may ask you to take another medical exam. It’s also common for trucking companies to require their drivers to take routine drug and alcohol screenings. DOT drug tests look for marijuana, opioids, phencyclidine (PCP), amphetamines and methamphetamines.
If you are on any prescription medications that may cause your drug test to return positive, make sure you inform the trucking company ahead of time and bring proof of a medical prescription from a licensed doctor.
Some health conditions and medications will disqualify you from being a truck driver. These include epilepsy and anti-seizure medication, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
You will need to provide a clean 10-year driving record to your state’s DMV before being issued a CDL. Trucking companies also run criminal background checks on new drivers to ensure they are trustworthy individuals.
Previous criminal convictions don’t necessarily rule you out of a job, but they can impact how willing companies are to hire you. The nature of the crime and time that has passed since your offense will also impact the final decision.
In addition to your criminal history, trucking companies also look at your employment and driving history. A pattern of reckless or irresponsible behavior, such as a slew of DUIs or driving violations, will not bode well for an aspiring trucker.
Most companies require their drivers to have a GED or high school diploma. You may also be asked to show a certificate of completion from your CDL training program.
Truck Driver Qualifications to Show Your Employer
Before you can get hired and start driving, you’ll need to bring some documents along to show your employer. These include:
- The original and a copy of your CDL
- A medical card/DOT physical form
- Proof of education
- Proof of address for tax and mailing purposes
The FMCSA Checklist
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration offers a handy checklist that employers use to screen candidates. This can be helpful for anyone wondering how to become a truck driver. The process can feel daunting at first, but once you have a framework in place, you’ll be surprised at how quickly the training and preparation period passes.
The FMCSA Checklist includes:
- A list of employers who you drove a commercial vehicle for in the last 10 years.
- Records of any driving accidents, road incidents or drug or alcohol violations.
- A copy of your driver performance history, safety performance history and response notes from investigators.
- A yearly report of any convicted motor violations.
- Copy of your road test certificate.
- A Medical Examiner’s Certificate and, if needed, a Skill Performance Evaluation Certificate.
- Drug or alcohol test results.
The FMCSA Checklist provides a thorough overview of the common violations that disqualify drivers, which you can review here. There are also many downloadable documents you can use to further prepare for your future jobs.
Becoming a Truck Driver: Next Steps
Once you know the basic requirements for becoming a truck driver, you can start exploring your training options. Choose a program that offers FMCSA-compliant courses, so you can rest assured that your education provides you everything you need to earn your CDL on your first try.
You should also begin to explore trucking jobs near you. Job boards, like Indeed, often feature opportunities for a number of carriers, including small companies and nationally recognized companies.
Before you sign on to a trucking company, make sure you thoroughly research them online. You can check a carrier’s safety score using the free FMCSA Safety Measurement System. There are also other perks, like tuition reimbursement, rider and pet policies and driver support.
Ultimately, when you join a carrier, you should feel like a valuable part of a team. Everyone should be on the same page, and as a driver, you should always feel like you get the respect your time and skills deserve.
When you’re ready to take the next step in your career to become an owner-operator, Truckbase can assist you in handling your paperwork, enabling you to spend more time on the things that matter, being on the road and more time at home. Schedule a demo today and find out why so many truckers are moving to Truckbase!