USA: 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.
Complete Basic Education Requirements and Professional Training
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has found that most long-haul employers expect applicants to hold at least a high school diploma or GED equivalent, along with a CDL. In addition, serious candidates should attend and complete the curriculum from an accredited community college program or a private truck driving school. The programs run from several months to a full year, and some students may receive tuition assistance.
Earn Pertinent Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Truck driving schools typically teach students how to drive trucks as well as learn the regulatory details to pass licensing exams. Schools should include a focus on the essentials of the state’s CDL exam. And endorsements matter. A “combination vehicle” endorsement can open the driver’s qualifications to include driving semi-trucks, hazardous material loads, school vehicles, and tanker trucks. Drivers must also pass the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation (FMCSR) exam that includes a physical sight and hearing assessment and a written section on federal traffic laws. Each type of CDL endorsement requires a passing grade on a skills test and/or a written test. You may hold a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) to gain on-the-road experience under the guidance of a CDL-licensed driver.
Research the Career (How to Become a Truck Driver)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Find Job Placement Assistance (How to Become a Truck Driver)
Some truck driving schools offer the services of job placement boards and career counseling. Truck-driving associations and organizations (see below) offer job boards and career mentoring for their members. There are also for-pay professional recruiting service organizations. Finally, there are the general national job boards like Indeed or Monster that post openings based on location, driving experience, and training. Indeed.com currently lists more than 28,000 new jobs for CDL holders and for those with special endorsements.
Qualify for the Job
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pass the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Complete Employer Orientation and Training Program
Congratulations, you have a job! The BLS reports that most companies require newly licensed employees to complete a proprietary, in-house training program. These can run three to four weeks. Often called Driver Finishing Programs, training sessions introduce new truckers to the vehicles, materials, and equipment relevant to the company. Student driving is monitored by a licensed mentor accompanying on-road training.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, some employers will not hire tractor trailer drivers who don’t have two years of related experience, such as being a delivery truck driver. And experience can factor into total earnings for long-haul or semi-trailer drivers. On the road experience can foster networking with fellow drivers on job openings, learning tips, equipment improvements, or the value of gaining endorsements.
FAQ on Earning Your Truck Driver Certification
While there are no continuing education requirements to hold a trucking job, continuing education toward earning new CDL certifications can add skills and broaden your career opportunities.
That depends on the state of the original licensing. Each state establishes the length of the license cycle. DMV.org has a list of states, along with requirements for renewals.
Some trucking firms offer health and life insurance programs — or discounts on them. Some don’t, so do your homework on each company’s policies. Self-employed drivers may have to buy private insurance through state exchanges. Organizations such as The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) offers members group rates on life, dental, vision and other health insurance plans.
According to Forbes, students can expect to pay from $1,000 to $7,000, depending on the type of school (community college or private school), the state licensing requirements, and the region in the country.
AllTrucking.com reports that drivers can charge on a contractual basis per load, or they can lease their driving services and trucks based on a per-mile rate. Trucking companies often pay between $0.28 and $0.40 cents per mile.
The BLS reports that heavy tractor-trailer drivers usually work on a full-time basis. However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires drivers to limit their driving time to 14 straight hours and no more than 60 driving hours within a seven day period. Time logs are required in federal reporting.
Truck Driver Salary & Job Growth in USA
The following section examines the national average for entry-level pay for new drivers, along with the advancement in earnings pegged to years of experience. According to PayScale, the median annual salary for entry level drivers is currently $46,001. Mid-career salaries range from $33,951 – $73,938. Annual salaries for truckers late in their careers range from $37,474 – $83,426. Other income sources may include company bonuses, profit sharing, and commissions. Fluctuations in earning levels may depend on the employer, the state where the business is located, or the length of the driver’s professional experience.
- AlabamaMean wage annual: $40,080
- AlaskaMean wage annual: $56,250
- ArizonaMean wage annual: $44,640
- ArkansasMean wage annual: $40,620
- CaliforniaMean wage annual: $45,560
- ColoradoMean wage annual: $46,990
- ConnecticutMean wage annual: $48,530
- DelawareMean wage annual: $42,550
- FloridaMean wage annual: $41,150
- GeorgiaMean wage annual: $42,510
- HawaiiMean wage annual: $49,050
- IdahoMean wage annual: $44,250
- IllinoisMean wage annual: $47,730
- IndianaMean wage annual: $46,270
- IowaMean wage annual: $42,570
- KansasMean wage annual: $44,300
- KentuckyMean wage annual: $43,430
- LouisianaMean wage annual: $41,800
- MaineMean wage annual: $40,670
- MarylandMean wage annual: $47,230
- MassachusettsMean wage annual: $50,580
- MichiganMean wage annual: $42,180
- MinnesotaMean wage annual: $46,570
- MississippiMean wage annual: $40,780
- MissouriMean wage annual: $43,480
- MontanaMean wage annual: $44,700
- NebraskaMean wage annual: $43,590
- NevadaMean wage annual: $50,440
- New HampshireMean wage annual: $44,370
- New JerseyMean wage annual: $48,290
- New MexicoMean wage annual: $44,860
- New YorkMean wage annual: $48,460
- North CarolinaMean wage annual: $42,490
- North DakotaMean wage annual: $53,020
- OhioMean wage annual: $43,990
- OklahomaMean wage annual: $43,130
- OregonMean wage annual: $45,600
- PennsylvaniaMean wage annual: $46,150
- Rhode IslandMean wage annual: $46,600
- South CarolinaMean wage annual: $42,260
- South DakotaMean wage annual: $40,850
- TennesseeMean wage annual: $41,510
- TexasMean wage annual: $44,260
- UtahMean wage annual: $45,500
- VermontMean wage annual: $44,190
- VirginiaMean wage annual: $42,780
- WashingtonMean wage annual: $46,990
- West VirginiaMean wage annual: $38,580
- WisconsinMean wage annual: $44,330
- WyomingMean wage annual: $49,420
The Labor Department reports that trucks transport the largest amount of freight in the country. As the economy grows, so grows the hiring in the industry. An increase in jobs may also be influenced by greater spending by businesses and households. Some 1,871,700 heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers served the country in 2016. The BLS estimates
that the number of drivers will increase to 1,980,100 by 2026, for a total of 108,400 new openings. With many drivers reaching retirement age, the number of new drivers may be even greater.
List of Professional Truck Driver Associations & Groups in USA
Commercial truck drivers may spend considerable solitary time on the road aside from meeting their fellow truck drivers at fuel stops or talking on the radio/cell phone. But to succeed, a driver needs to network with other professionals for career tips, mentoring opportunities, and learning about new regulations. Other drivers can share advice and possibly help find opportunities and specializations that increase range of jobs. Here are some groups, organizations, or associations that look out for the driving industry:
- Owner-Operator Independent Drivers AssociationFor more than 40 years, with over 160,000 members, the OOIDA provides information and access to truck insurance, affordable healthcare and life insurance, information on federal regulations, news on law enforcement, warranty issues, and legal protections for drivers.
- TruckingTrack.orgThe Trucking Track Mentoring Program was developed to help veterans, transitioning service members, and eligible spouses find careers in the trucking industry. Starting salaries from program graduates range from $35,000 to $65,000. More than 30 mentors help students network with industry recruiters.
- Women In Trucking (WIT)Some six percent of today’s truckers are women. A membership organization, WIT provides women drivers with a monthly magazine, weekly newsletters, a listing of career mentors, and “women in trucking” blogs. Great for networking.
- Jobs in TrucksThis organization claims to host the “largest niche job board” for hiring drivers. Connected with thousands of recruiters, it sends completed driver applications to hiring personnel and sends drivers alerts on job openings organized by route type, location, license requirements, experience and endorsements.
- Trucker to TruckerA truck and equipment sales site, Trucker to Trucker has an impressive listing of state trucking associations for networking, trucking news, truck shows, training scholarships, and trucking jobs.
- TTJobsThis membership organization helps drivers connect with employers or trucking associations offering jobs or internships. Members can apply for jobs, post their resumes, have their references confirmed, and participate in an online career learning center.
Resources for Truck Drivers in USA
There’s a wealth of information available online for current truckers or new drivers seeking licensing. Learn more about Federal and State regulations, safety issues, and ways to prevent illegal activities on the road.
- American Trucking AssociationsFounded in 1933, this organization advocates for federal licensing and safety regulations. Its comprehensive news section includes timely articles on topics such as tonnage, driver compensation surveys, and rules governing online hours-of-service logging.
- DMV.orgPrivately-owned, DMV.org lists CDL eligibility requirements, state-by-state CDL licensing requirements, and free CDL practice tests.
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety AdministrationAs part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the FMCSA regulates and provides safety oversight of CMVs. The website has details on regulations, registration, commercial drivers licensing, and road safety.
- FMCSA Electronic Logging Devices (ELD)This large, informative section of the FMSCA resource site concerns the government mandates and requirements for the usage of ELDs. Learn how to edit and annotate records of duty status (RODS), certify the records, and how to collect supporting documents.
- Transport TopicsDesigned for truckers and transportation managers, TT has current articles and statistics on government activities, business management, industry equipment, fuel alternatives, safety, technology and logistics.
- Trucker Countrywhile this is a commercial website, it lists the minimal Federal and State requirements to apply for licensing, how to comply with medical and physical regulations, details on self-certification, and a CDL Practice Test Center.
- Truckers Against TraffickingWith an estimated 40 million slaves today across the world that are illegally trafficked by truckers, TAT works with corporations and nonprofit organizations to educate drivers and law enforcement personnel how to identify and report trafficking and risks. So far, 570,000 people have gained certificates of completion for training by the organization.