Is truck driving a good career for you? Before you decide, ask yourself these questions.
The life of a truck driver is about answering the call of the open road while moving goods across the country. No wonder some truckers say that never in a million years would they trade their truck driver career for a 9-to-5 job in a cubicle. But the life of a truck driver isn’t for everybody. And the first year is the toughest. But as long as you go into it with realistic expectations and the full-fledged support of those who matter the most to you, truck driving could be a reliable career that delivers what you need.
Here are some Frequently Asked Questions that can help you decide:
Q. What’s the typical day in the life of a trucker?
A. A day in the life of a truck driver can vary, but more often than not, it’s all about operating safely and delivering goods to customers on time. To maximize pay, you want to log the most miles possible. Some drivers prefer driving through the night. For long-haul truckers, a day might look like this:
- 4:00 a.m. – Grab a cup of coffee, check messages and the weather forecast, inspect the truck and trailer, start your e-log and get underway. Your 13-hour window starts now and only 11 of those can be driving hours.
- 10:00-10:30 a.m. – BREAK for 30 minutes and stretch your legs.
- 10:30-11:30 a.m. – Log a few more miles.
- 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. – BREAK for an hour. If you’ve been making good time, depending on where you are, make the most of your lunch break by taking in the local scenery or checking-in with your family back home. Instead of fast food, reach into your on-board fridge and take out the healthy lunch you packed.
- 12:30-2:00 p.m. – Log a few more miles.
- 2:00-2:30 p.m. – BREAK for another 30 minutes to stretch your legs. Use this time to walk around the truck and ensure that your load is secure.
- 2:30-5:00 p.m. – Back on the road. You must have 10 consecutive hours off duty, so it’s time to start thinking about where you’ll spend the night. If you’re close to home, head that way and take the rare opportunity to sleep in your own bed. Otherwise, keep to your route and log a few more miles.
- 5 p.m. – Good job. You’ve logged 11 hours of driving time and kept well within your 14-hour window. Time to call it a day. Work out. Take a shower. Have dinner. Phone home. Most truck stops have WiFi, so you can watch your favorite show or stream a movie. Lights out.
One of the most rewarding things about being a trucker is that you can largely plan your own schedule based on routes that most efficiently meet your employer deadlines, instead of being held to a monotonous 9-to-5 routine.
Q. What makes the first year the toughest?
A. Similar to the military, truck drivers need to “earn their stripes.” The newest team member is likely to get the least desirable routes and the toughest customers. But don’t get discouraged. Your employer is simply testing you to see if you have what it takes. By hanging in there and proving yourself, you’ll earn more ideal assignments. Use year one to focus on safety, hone your driving skills, put in the miles and make a lasting impression.
Q. What’s the best advice for a new driver?
A. Never quit a job that’s less than one year old. Never. It leaves a big question mark (more like “red flag”) on your record. Companies value and reward loyal drivers.
Q. What are the trucks like?
A. Over-the-road drivers spend a lot of time in an 8’ by 8’ sleeper cab. Most modern trucks are often equipped with ergonomically designed seats, a refrigerator, satellite TV and a bed. Most are manual transmission, though the industry is moving quickly to automatic transmissions to boost fuel efficiency.
Q. What’s it like for the spouse or partner of a trucker?
An over-the-road trucker can spend 300 nights per year on the road. It could be a couple of years before you can move into a regional job that lets you return home more often. That’s why it’s so important to set expectations with a significant other before you say yes to a career in truck driving.
Q. What’s the biggest mistake young drivers make?
A. Young drivers often lack the communications skills of more seasoned professionals. If you find yourself at the end of your rope, don’t fly off the handle with your dispatcher or pack up your belongings and abandon your cargo mid route. Instead, take a breath, log on to one of the blogs or discussion boards and ask for advice. Or, stop at a truck stop, sit at the counter and seek the wise counsel of a veteran driver. Chances are, a fellow road warrior once led him through a similar situation. Communication is key.
Q. How will my pay be calculated?
A. A truck driver’s career can be fulfilling and lucrative, but not all employers calculate pay in the same manner. Some employers pay “practical miles” based on every mile driven. But “paid miles” can vary – and those routes aren’t always straight. You should also understand the difference between “drop and hook” versus “live load/unload.” Drop and hook is ideal because it means you drop off a loaded trailer and pick up another without waiting around while the trailer is being unloaded. Time spent waiting for a truck to be live loaded or unloaded isn’t nearly as valuable, if you’re being paid by the mile. These are just a few of the variations and questions to consider when asking yourself “is truck driving a good career for me?” Make sure you understand exactly how your pay will be calculated before you sign on the dotted line.
Q. How do I know when it’s time to quit trucking?
A. You’ve invested a lot to get where you are, so don’t make this decision rashly. Seek advice from your mentors, family members and anyone else you know with a truck driver’s career. Don’t make this decision at 3 a.m. in the rain after you’ve been driving for 11 hours. But if you find yourself well-rested on a great day with an open road in front of you, and you still don’t feel like the life of a truck driver is the lifestyle for you, maybe it’s time to think about a career change. Even then, if you’ve been on the job for less than a year, it’s highly recommended that you not quit. You owe it to yourself to stick it out for one full year so you can reap the benefits of becoming an experienced driver, and one that companies value because you’ve shown loyalty, solid work ethic and tenacity.