Truck Driver Career Overview

Truck drivers move more than 70% of the goods in the United States. They also earn an impressive salary and enjoy being part of a market that remains crucial to the country’s economy.

Like any career, anyone looking to become a heavy truck driver will have a much better time going through the process if they know what they expect beforehand. You have come to the right page if you find yourself in this position.

Below we’d like to highlight everything you need to know to become a successful heavy truck driver, including the things you need to get started, possible training alternatives, potential salary, and more.

What Does a Truck Driver Do?

A truck driver is a professional transporting material from one place to another using heavy trucks. Many truck drivers operate trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds (including the vehicle, passengers, and cargo).

A truck driver may work in one city or travel between cities. As we’ll see soon enough, different licenses are needed based on the above factors.

Generally, a truck driver’s duties include driving long distances, obeying applicable traffic laws, loading and securing cargo for transport in the right way, and keeping their trucks in the best possible shape for the journey.

Work Environment

All truck drivers move goods from one place to another. However, the distance between locations tends to differ based on specialization.

While some truck drivers only move goods locally, others may drive across the country, spending hours, days, or weeks on the road. Besides their journey, truck drivers also differ in the goods and materials they transport. While some truck drivers only move parcels, others may transport heavy machinery. There are even truck drivers who specialize in transporting toxic and hazardous materials.

How to Become a Truck Driver

To become a heavy truck driver, you must first receive a commercial driver’s license, known generally as a CDL. CDL requirements usually differ by state, but some stipulations are shared across multiple states.

Below are some steps every aspiring truck driver must take to obtain their CDL.

Step 1: Know the Vehicle Classifications

The FMCSA standard specifies three classes of CDL. These include:

  • Class A - Class A vehicles include any combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of up to 26,001 pounds and more, towing a trailer with a gross weight of more than 10,000 pounds.

  • Class B - Class B vehicles include a single vehicle with a gross weight of 26,001, but the vehicle in tow must be less than 10,001 pounds. These include various box trucks, straight trucks, and city buses.

  • Class C - Class C vehicles include single vehicles with a gross weight of less than 26,000 pounds. Any vehicle or combination of vehicles that don’t fall under the class A or class B requirements can transport 16 passengers or more (along with the driver) or transport hazardous materials.

Some states also use “Class D” classifications to classify regular licenses. The class A license is the most suitable for heavy truck drivers of all these classifications.

Step 2: Know the Basic Requirements

To become a heavy truck driver, most states specify that drivers must be at least 18 years old to drive locally and 21 years old to drive outside their home states. Individuals must also provide a medical card from an approved examiner.

Other essential requirements include a driver’s license, utility bill, birth certificate, social security card, and a copy of their MVR.

Step 3: Know the Disqualification Conditions

The conditions above will qualify you to begin the CDL process. On the flip side, certain conditions may automatically disqualify you from the process. These include:

  • Having been convicted of drunk driving or reckless driving.
  • Having a felony conviction for serious offenses such as kidnapping, extortion, and arson.
  • Being physically handicapped.
  • Using certain specified prescription medications.
  • Certain medical conditions include diabetes, sleep apnea, and high blood pressure.

It is possible to overcome some of these limitations by receiving a written waiver from a physician.

Step 4: Enroll in a Training School

CDL truck driving schools help prepare students for their CDL exams. Depending on preference, students may enroll in private training academies, community colleges, and even driver mills organized by mega carriers.

It is always imperative to choose a reputable school for the best results.

Step 6: Obtain a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)

The next step after training is to obtain a learner’s permit. Most states allow online registration. Requirements for the permit often include providing a copy of the MVR, current driver’s license, and proof of identification.

Candidates must also pay an application fee that varies by state.

Once the application is complete, candidates may take the CDL general knowledge test.

Step 7: Take the Final CDL Test

The final CDL test includes sections on:

  • Vehicle inspection - inspecting engine compartments, brakes, suspension systems, etc.

  • Basic controls - Parallel parking, offset backing, etc.

  • Road test - involves driving with an instructor to evaluate awareness, vehicle command, etc.

  • Endorsements - Hazmat, Twic Card, etc.

Step 8: Secure Employment

Finally, after completing and passing the CDL exam, candidates will receive their CDLs and may proceed to secure employment. Those who failed the exam the first time may also retake the test after a short waiting period.

Heavy Truck Driver Salary & Job Outlook

Heavy truck drivers earned a median annual salary of $48,310 in 2021. This is according to data revealed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The highest-paid truck drivers earned an annual average salary of $72,730, while those in the bottom ten percent earned an average yearly salary of $30,710. Factors influencing how much a truck driver makes include their total mileage, bonuses, and industry type.