If you’re considering a career as a commercial truck driver, you’ll want to read our overview of the field, from school and salary expectations to working conditions and job outlook.
What the Job Entails
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers transport goods from one location to another, over inter-city routes and sometimes spanning several states. Typical job duties include:
• Driving long distances
• Inspecting trailers before and after trips and recording any defects found
• Maintaining a log of working hours and following all federal and state regulations
• Reporting serious mechanical problems to the appropriate personnel
• Keeping trucks and associated equipment clean and in good working order
Unlike most jobs, commercial truck driving is a lifestyle. This is because drivers can be away from home (and their families) for days or weeks at a time. The job is physically and mentally demanding because drivers are alone much of the time and driving for several hours at a time can be exhausting. Truck drivers often work nights, weekends, and holidays.
That being said, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the hours that a long-haul truck driver may work. Drivers are not allowed to work more than 14 straight hours, comprising up to 11 hours spent driving and the remaining time spent doing other work, such as unloading cargo. Drivers also are limited to driving no more than 60 hours within 7 days or 70 hours within 8 days. Then drivers must take 34 hours off before starting another 7- or 8-day run.
Truck Driving School
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers usually have a high school diploma and attend a professional truck driving school. During truck driving school students take training courses to learn how to maneuver large vehicles on highways or through crowded streets. During these classes, students also learn the federal laws and regulations governing interstate truck driving.
Programs typically last between 3 and 6 months. Upon finishing their classes, drivers receive a certificate of completion and will need to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
After completing truck driving school and being hired by a company, drivers normally receive between 1 and 3 months of on-the-job training. During this time, they drive a truck with a more experienced mentor–driver in the passenger seat.
This training allows new drivers to obtain more in-depth knowledge about, and become more familiar and comfortable with, the specific type of truck they will drive and material they will transport.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the job prospects for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers with the proper training and a clean driving record to be very good, with a growth rate of 5% over the next several years.
The demand for drivers has increased along with the improved economy because, when the economy picks up, more goods are created and need to be transported. Additionally, drivers are expected to retire in the coming years, creating even more job opportunities.