Is truck driving a good career choice? If you love traveling, the open road, independence, flexibility, working outside an office, and don’t mind being on your own, truck driving is a great job for you. Truck driving is a steady, fulfilling job that will always be in demand and will never be outsourced. While life on the road isn’t for everybody, truck driving can be good career choice if you want to get out of the daily 9:00 to 5:00 office grind and see the country from the open road.
If you are wondering if truck driving is a good job, we’ve compiled lots of information about a typical truck driver’s lifestyle, work environment, and job requirements to help you decide if becoming a truck driver is right for you.
Working as a truck driver is more than a profession—it’s a lifestyle. While driving a truck will allow you to discover parts of the United States, and even Canada and Mexico, that most people never see, you’ll also spend up to 300 days a year on the road—and that means only 65 days out of the year at home. If you have a spouse and kids at home, this might be a difficult sacrifice, especially during the first years when most of your assignments will be long distance.
One of the best parts of the truck driving lifestyle is that you aren’t held to a strict, monotonous daily (or hourly!) routine dictated by your employer. You will have deadlines and stops to make and will need to drive about 11 hours per day on the road, but you can largely set your own routes and schedules within that time frame. That said, the road is long and the days can be filled with sitting, boredom, and loneliness. Take a look at a day in the life of a truck driver to decide if this lifestyle is one that can work for you.
To become a truck driver, you need to obtain the required education, training, and licensure. To qualify for your first truck driving job, you’ll need to meet these requirements:
Plan for about 7 weeks to finish a CDL training course, plus an extra week to schedule and study for the CDL exam. If you pass the CDL, you’ll receive an interim license that will be valid until your official copy comes in the mail after about 90 days. Once you’re hired with a truck driving company, plan on 3 to 12 more months of training.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for CDL truck drivers in 2017 was $42,480. This averages out to about $20 per hour. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $27,510 per year, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $64,000.
The highest paying truck driving job is hazmat hauling or driving a tanker, which is a vehicle that transports hazardous liquids, such as gas or other chemicals. You’ll need a hazmat license to drive a tanker, which involves additional training and certification. But that training will increase your earning potential. For example, Schneider, the fourth-largest trucking employer in the United States, reports that truckers with a hazmat license can earn up to $82,000 per year driving tankers.
Other ways to increase your earning potential as a truck driver include:
How much time truckers spend off the road depends on what kind of truckers they are and how far along they are in their careers.
Newly hired truckers are in a training period and partnered with a more experienced driver. During this time, they are subject to their trainer’s schedule and preferences, and will only get to take time off to be home when their trainer is also off duty.
After completing their on-the-job training in 3 to 12 months, truck drivers can drive alone. Solo truck drivers make it home anywhere from a few times a week to once every 4 to 6 weeks, depending on their position and experience.
Team drivers have the highest earning potential—but the lowest lifestyle flexibility. They partner with another driver to clock longer distances and increase their combined earning potential. However, drivers will need to coordinate off-duty time with each other’s schedules.
Truck driving can be dangerous. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is one of the deadliest jobs in the United States. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that large trucks were involved in as many as 160,000 accidents on the roads in 2016, with about 4,000 being fatal. Because of fatigue and unpredictable road conditions, including adverse weather, hazards on the road, and reckless drivers, truck drivers are vulnerable to dangerous accidents.
However, trucking companies make safety a priority and reward accident-free driving. There are several steps truck drivers can take to increase their safety on the roads, including:
While there is no mandatory retirement age, many safety advocates are pushing for a forced retirement for professional drivers at age 65. Elderly drivers tend to have more fatal accidents. You know your capabilities, and if you are worried about your eyesight, focus, or health in any way, it may be time to retire from trucking.
With long hours spent alone away from home, tight deadlines, mileage-based pay, and safety concerns, truck driving can be a stressful profession, especially for beginners. On top of this stress, according to the CDC truck drivers are more likely to smoke, have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and suffer from obesity. These factors lead to a life expectancy of 61 years, which is 16 years lower than average.
There are definitely ways to help minimize stress, most of which are pretty simple:
There are many benefits to the life of a truck driver—adventure, independence, reflection time, good money, the chance to see the country and escape the day-to-day grind of working in an office. There are definite cons as well. Along with limited family time, increased exposure to risk, and long, sometimes boring work days, irregular sleep patterns are a struggle for many truck drivers. The key to overcoming sleep problems as a truck driver is to strive for balance as much as possible. Be sure to:
Is truck driving a good job for me? To make an informed decision before becoming a truck driver, you’ll need to be aware of the following:
Truck driving school and earning a CDL will get you headed in the right direction. To make better money as a truck driver, earn your hazmat and tanker certificates. This will increase the types of loads you can haul and how much you are paid per mile. Attending truck driving school and getting your hazmat and tanker certificates will also help you to stand out from other drivers in order to land a great job.
Look for employment from these established companies, including:
Knowing that truck driving is a stressful profession will help you to avoid unpleasant surprises and disappointments. Review the list above for tips to minimize stress as a truck driver.
Solo truckers may spend most of their days physically alone, but communication plays a central role in the job. Truck drivers communicate with shippers, receivers, dispatchers, and fellow drivers. They set up times to drop off and pick up their loads, and they report safety hazards, delays, problems, and accidents. The key to effective communication for truckers is to be clear and honest. If there is a problem or you are running behind, speak up and reach out. When you have questions about your expectations, routes, or deliveries, ask for clarification.
Flexibility is a part of the job. Truck driving is a big shift from the traditional office job. Beyond that, schedules are adjusted, delivery deadlines change, and weather patterns shift. Be ready to adjust your plans and routines as needed to get the job done.
Eating on the go doesn’t give you a lot of options. With no kitchen or regular access to grocery stores and fresh produce, fast food is an easy choice. But severe health consequences await if you combine the sedentary nature of truck driving with poor eating habits. To be a better driver and healthier person, learn the best practices for eating healthy on the road.
No longer is the stereotype of a truck driver as a man in a trucker’s hat completely accurate. More and more women are entering the trucking industry, bringing diversity, filling open positions, and bringing more job and leadership opportunities to women.
Ready to get started on your truck driving career? Visit CDL to get started today!