How to Become a Truck Driver
Commercial truck driving can be a rewarding career, especially if you really enjoy driving and don't mind spending long periods of time away from home. Becoming a truck driver doesn't often take much time, but you do need to meet a few strict requirements before you can land a job.
Research the Career
1. Know what to expect as salary. Your salary will vary based on the type of trucking work you do, the company you work for, and your level of experience. That said, most truck drivers earn starting salaries around $30,000 per year.
After five to seven years of experience within a specific field, your salary will usually increase to around $55,000 per year. The likelihood of seeing an increase in your salary also improves if you stay with the same company.
Note that some trucking jobs pay more than others. Typically, drivers who work with hazardous chemicals, gas transport, or other dangerous fleet earn more than those whose work does not involve such materials.
2. Weigh the pros and cons. As with most careers, truck driving has various pros and cons. Review both to help you determine whether or not this is the right job for you.
On the plus side, trucking jobs require a short amount of schooling and offer high starting pay rates with decent benefit packages. It's usually relatively easy to find work, especially if you go through an established trucking school, and there's considerable flexibility regarding the type of driving you'll do.
On the downside, trucking jobs can be very demanding. Expect to be on the road for 12 hours a day, if not longer. You'll need to meet tight delivery deadlines, and the job can be dangerous, especially if you carry hazardous materials.
3. Talk with established truck drivers. If you have the opportunity to do so, try talking with a few established truck drivers. Ask them about their experiences and explain your interest in the field.
Find out if anyone in your social circle knows of someone with a career in truck driving. If you cannot make use of any personal connections, consider talking with a few truck drivers at a truck stop.
Depending on how things go, you may receive a few referral cards. Save them for later if you do; these cards may make it easier to attend school or find work.
4. Study the commercial driver's manual. Visit your nearest DMV office and ask for a copy of the state commercial driver's manual. Many state DMV websites also have digital copies available online.
This manual will tell you all you need to know about obtaining your commercial driver's license (CDL) within your state. Review the information about fees, classes, and restrictions. Study its contents to learn about the various traffic and safety laws associated with commercial driving.
Since traffic laws can change, you'll need to make sure that you study using the most recent edition of the manual. New editions are typically printed on a yearly basis.
Qualify for the Job
1. Meet the minimum requirements. Before you attend school or earn your CDL, you'll need to meet several basic physical and legal qualifications.
In most states, you must be at least 21 years old. You must also be legally eligible to work within the country and within the state.
You'll need to have a clean driving record. Schools and employers may overlook minor traffic violations, like parking tickets, but you probably won't qualify if you've been busted for reckless driving or if you've been convicted for DUI.
Many schools also want you to have a diploma or GED before applying, and some truck driving companies won't hire you without one. On the other hand, most don't care. The roads are full of veteran truckers who never finished high school.
2. Attend truck driving school. Contact nearby truck driving schools and sign up for an appropriate program. Good schools will provide both classroom and practical education.
Each program has its own tuition and fees, but many schools also offer tuition assistance. The timeline of each program can also vary. Some intensive programs may finish within 30 days to 10 weeks, but more in-depth programs can extend out to a full year.
Within the classroom, you'll learn about laws and regulations related to truck driving. During practical, hands-on sessions, you'll gain guided practice driving commercial vehicles.
3. Pass both parts of the licensing exam. After you complete truck driving school, you'll need to take the state CDL exam. Each state has its own exam procedures, but typically, you'll need to pass both a written test and a road skills test.
The written test will evaluate your knowledge of the various laws and safety regulations involved with truck driving.
The road skills test will require you to briefly drive a commercial vehicle under the supervision of a state licensed examiner.
Note that you can take the exam or more than one type of commercial vehicle endorsement. The "combination vehicle" endorsement will allow you to drive semi trucks, but other endorsements include: passenger, school bus, air brake, tank vehicles, doubles triples, and hazardous materials.
If you choose to get the "hazardous materials" endorsement, you'll also need to pass a background check with the TSA.
4. Pass the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation (FMCSR) exam. The FMCSR exam includes both written and physical components. The written portion covers federal traffic law, and the physical portion includes brief hearing and vision tests.
Once you pass the written portion, you'll never have to pass it again. You must take and pass the physical portion of the exam every two years, however.
1. Check into job placement services. The vast majority of truck driving schools offer job placement services, so you should check with your school when looking for your first job.
Established truck driving schools that have been around for several decades often have close connections to trucking companies at the national, regional, and local levels. In many cases, those who graduate from a truck driving program with job placement services can find work within 30 to 60 days.
If your program does not offer job placement services, contact the trucking companies directly and ask about openings. Apply for the entry-level positions that fit with your qualifications and career goals.
2. Attend an orientation. Once you're hired by a trucking company, you'll usually need to undergo an orientation lasting three to five days.
Each company will vary, but typically, the orientation will teach you about the company and its various policies.
During the orientation period, you may also need to fill out paperwork, pass a drug test, and/or pass some type of basic physical exam.
3. Pass the training period. After completing your orientation, expect to undergo an official training period. In most cases, one experienced driving will be responsible for training you according to company policy.
You'll usually work alongside your trainer for several weeks to several months. This individual will be responsible for teaching you about company routes, paperwork procedures, and other related information.
4. Take another road test with the company. When you finish your training, you'll likely need to pass the company's trucking exam. This exam usually centers around the road test, but it may also include a written portion depending on the company.
After passing the exam, the company will probably assign your own truck to you. Expect to receive your own delivery route along with it. You'll be responsible for completing this route on your own, without the assistance of a trainer or partner.
5. Advance in your career. Most beginners start in the field of long-haul trucking, regardless of how many endorsements they received while taking the state CDL exam. You can usually advance to better positions after gaining several years of experience, though.
Local and specialty trucking jobs usually require experience. You will also need experience before you can earn a better salary as a long-haul trucker and before you can qualify as a driver trainer for others.