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 "should I be a truck driver," 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:
Becoming a truck driver takes 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 2018 was $43,680. This averages out to about $21 per hour. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $28,160 per year, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $65,260.
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:
One of the biggest advantages of becoming a truck driver is the amount of control you have over your career. If you want to move to another part of the country, there’s a good chance you can still work with the same company. Even if you do have to change companies, there’s such a high need for skilled drivers that you can find a job no matter where you live.
Another great part about being a driver is that your schedule can move as you need it. Rather than demanding that you drive a certain amount without exceptions, most companies understand that as with any job, you need time off, and are allowing drivers more control over their work schedules.
If you are an owner and operator of your own truck, you have even more flexibility with your hours, work schedule, and even where you are willing to drive.
No matter if the economy is booming or starting to head into a recession, trucking freight is always necessary and truck drivers are always needed. As long as there are people that want to buy things, truck driving is a career that will be in demand.
Being a truck driver does not mean your or your family’s health has to suffer. Rather, most trucking companies provide health benefits that help protect and safeguard their drivers. It does no good for the company to have sick or injured drivers behind the wheel, so they make sure you are feeling your best, and can do your job right.
Truck drivers have the opportunity to be on the road and see places few people get to visit. Most people are glued to their city and surrounding area, but as a truck driver, you can drive coast to coast. You have the ability to explore major cities like Miami, New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles, all while also seeing some of the forgotten gems of the country like Galena, Illinois or Berlin, Maryland.
When you are out driving, it is just you, your truck, and the road. You can choose to turn off your radio as you drive and the only sounds you have to worry about are your breath, your heartbeat, and the hum of your truck.
For those looking for a place to be alone with their thoughts and enjoy some solitude, becoming a truck driver is the perfect job for you. It will give you the time and space to be alone with your thoughts, rather than having to worry about office politics and pointless meetings.
If you want to, truck driving can give you a new adventure every time you get behind the wheel. While some drivers do choose to drive the same routes and roads day after day, it is just as possible for you to never have the same day twice. While one city might have your house, it’s very easy to make it so that the entire country is your home.
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 107,000 injury accidents on the roads in 2017, with 4,657 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:
While anyone that is able to get their CDL license can be a truck driver, not all truck drivers are good at what they do. Here are a few key qualities that separate the average truck driver from being the best in the field.
Reliability - It might seem basic, but being able to do what you say you’re going to do can make a big difference.
Honesty - Cutting corners, lying, or stretching the truth will always catch up with you. To avoid headaches and pain in the future, the best thing a truck driver can do is be honest to themselves and their client or company.
Great Driving Record - Truck drivers make their living off of driving, so it would make sense that what separates the rest from the best is how well they drive. This includes not only the skills required to drive the truck but also the self-control to follow the laws and regulations of driving. You might not think it’s that big of a deal going five miles over the speed limit, but for the best drivers, it’s those small details that make the difference.
Patience - You have to deal with all sorts of traffic and weather while on the road. There are going to be unexpected delays and problems, and a good driver doesn’t let those small speed bumps hold them back from getting the job done right.
Time-Management Skills - You are in charge of your schedule and pace. If you have to be in another city by a certain time, it is your job to figure out how long you will need to be on the road. A good driver can work out not only how to get to a location on time, but how to do it without overstressing their schedule.
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!