How to Become a Truck Driver: The Complete Guide
Oftentimes, people see the trucking industry as a career of mystery and intrigue. People often feel like they’re given the keys to their rig, a foldable map tucked in their console, and are then set free on the open road to explore the continent in perhaps the most immersive way possible.
A career as a trucker can most certainly be rewarding, especially for those who are adventurous at heart. Seeing the world through your windshield means you’ll see towns, cities, and sites that many will never even think to visit. But, the job itself takes a great deal of commitment and responsibility. It’s highly regulated and, when you are looking to enter the field, you might have trouble figuring out what to do first.
This guide will help put you on the right track.
Step #1: Do you want a job or a lifestyle?
A local delivery driver has a job. A trucker is living a lifestyle. Work/life balance can be difficult to find for truckers who want to regularly visit their family and friends at home. In reality, if you want to be a happy and successful trucker, you need a free spirit that’s ready to be set out on the highway for weeks and even months at a time.
Most truckers earn only 1 day of home time for every 1 week they spend on the road.
Sure, live chat and cell phones can help keep you connected to everyone no matter where they are, but you have to be prepared to spend a lot of time by yourself in the cabin and you have to enjoy that sort of lifestyle. Many people enter the field without thinking it through and that’s why the industry has a high turnover rate.
On the other hand, if you see yourself loving that sort of freedom, trucking might be the perfect lifestyle for you!
Step #2: Are You In Good Health?
Before you can get the keys to your own rig, you’ll need to pass the DOT (Department of Transportation) Medical Certification for truck drivers. The DOT physical is mandated by federal law, so there is no way getting around it. You must meet or exceed certain requirements that the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) has set forth.
These medical requirements have grown more and more strict in recent years, so you should spend the $50 or so on obtaining a DOT medical exam before you invest your time and money in driving school and other parts the process. The following may cause problems:
- Heart issues, like high blood pressure and murmurs
- Sleep apnea, snoring
- Diabetes and insulin dependence
- Anything less than 20/40 vision
- Color blindness or the inability to tell the difference between green, yellow, and red
- Recent back injury, surgery, or hernia
- Blood sugar levels that exceed 200
You will have to continuously meet these requirements in order to maintain your CDL. As of January 2014, you’ll also be required to register your DOT medical certificate with your state of residence at least 15 days prior to its expiration or your CDL will be suspended.
Step #3: Criminal Background & Driving Record
Obviously, you’re going to be responsible for taking big ticket loads to and from their destinations. This means you need to have a clean criminal background and a clear driving record. Every company is required by federal and state laws to investigate your criminal background, all of your previous employers, any employment gaps in the last 10 years, your address history, your medical history, and your driving record whether or not you have had a CDL previously or not.
A misdemeanor or felony can cause you problems depending on the type of charge, number of charges, and the length of time since your conviction. Unstable employment history can also be problematic. Long period of unemployment will need to be explained. Excessive number fo accidents, speeding tickets, and/or a DUI/DWI can greatly affect your chances of being hired as well.
Step #4: Get Training
The next step in the process after you have taken the time to sort of “pre qualify” yourself is to find CDL training. You can either find a reputable driving school in your area that administers CDL training or you can attend a company sponsored training with any major trucking company.
With the latter, you’ll need to keep in mind that most companies will require you to sign a project when yo attend their training. This means they will train you for 1-2 years and you will have to work with them until you fulfill the terms of the contract. If you decide you don’t like trucking or something changes and you need to go back home, you will still be bound by that contract. However, there are no up-front costs with this kind of training.
Just consider the following:
- Length of contract
- Payback amount if you do not fulfil the contract
- Time away from home during training
- Pay per mile vs how much you would make if you were hired having a CDL
With the former, a private CDL training school can be an excellent choice if you find a reputable one. You should aim to choose a quality school rather than just the closest school to your home. The advantages include a choice of which company you work with later, no contracts to contend with, and most trucking companies can reimburse you for training when they hire you.
Just consider the following:
- No more than 3 students per truck (2 is best)
- You’ll have as many opportunities to pass the exam as needed
- The cost is usually $7,000 or less
Step #5: Get Your Learner's Permit
During your training, you will come to learn that you won’t get your CDL without a lot of practice on the road. During that time, you will need to have your CDL Learner’s Permit so that you can legally get behind the wheel, just like with a regular driver’s license.
The process for obtaining this varies from state to state, but usually consists of written tests about air brakes, commercial vehicle knowledge, and combination vehicle knowledge.
Step #6: Get Your CDL
Once you have your learner’s permit and you have logged the number of hours needed, you can finally go about getting your official CDL. You will need your DOT medical certificate, proof of attendance at a CDL driving school, and your learner’s permit to take the final test. It will consist of a pre-trip inspection, backing at various angles, and a road test.
Step #7: Getting Hired
The next step in the process after you get your CDL is getting hired! This is a multi-step process in itself, but with the driver shortage, you shouldn’t really have that much trouble finding opportunities.
With an opportunity found, the next step is applying for the position. Your application will likely consist of an interview process, a background check, and a thorough look through your employment history. If you already considered these things earlier, you should be confident that the interview will go smoothly.
Once you are hired, however, that’s not all. The company will likely take you through an orientation and trial period so that you can learn the workflow and get used to taking your first few assignments. This is a big part of getting used to your career ahead as a trucker. You may be asked to sign a contract of 1 or 2 years, but be weary about binding yourself to a commitment when you’re so new to the world of trucking.
When comparing your job offers, be sure to compare pay rates, time off, and time on the job. If you do your due diligence, you can find an opportunity that’s right for you.