Is the open road calling your name? Do you need to reset your life and you think long drives across the country are just the way to do it?
If so, you might want to look into becoming a truck driver. It’s a job that will take you places you’ve never been while introducing you to all kinds of new people and experiences.
But it’s not all about the nostalgia of the open road. Here, we’re breaking down how to become a truck driver in ten easy steps, all the way from contemplation to working your first job as a driver.
1. Know What You’re Getting Into
Before you get a license or start looking into companies to drive for, you need to know what you’re getting into with the trucker lifestyle.
It’s not an easy life, and it’s not for everyone. For one thing, you’re going to spend a lot of time on the road.
Truck drivers usually work on either a 60-hour/7-day schedule or a 70-hour/8-day schedule. This means that you will be on duty for 60 hours for seven consecutive days or on duty for 70 hours for eight consecutive days. And this isn’t necessarily a Saturday-Sunday schedule.
During these 60- or 70-hour work weeks, you’ll have a “daily limit” so to speak. Drivers have a period of 14 hours per day, 11 of which they can spend driving. They must have been off for 10 continuous hours beforehand and must take 10 continuous hours off before they can start driving again.
2. Know What Your Salary Will Look Like
Trucking isn’t the worst-paying job out there, but it isn’t quite a penthouse life. The median income for truck drivers in 2016 was $42,480, but keep in mind that the median is the middle of the pack and includes truckers who have been driving for 20 years.
As a new driver with no experience, you’ll probably earn a bit less than this. How liveable that sum is dependent entirely on where you live.
3. Weigh the Pros and Cons
One of the major pluses is that you can decide when you want to work. Pay and benefits can also go up if you’re handling high-end moving, hazardous materials, flatbeds, tanker trucks, or other specialized driving.
Company drivers can also get 401(k) retirement savings, paid time off, and various types of insurance. Independent contractors have to pay for their own insurance, as well as the cost of leasing a truck.
And who knows? After a while, you may get enough know-how to start your own trucking company.
That said, there are a few drawbacks. You’ll travel a lot, but you’ll spend most of your time seeing highways, loading docks, and moving crews. And because of the trucker work schedule, you’ll spend days on end sitting in a semi cab.
The work can also be physically demanding depending on what kind of driving you’re doing, which isn’t always a good mix with truck stop food and sitting for days at a time.
4. Know the Requirements and Qualifications
If it sounds like truck driving is the right career choice for you, then it’s time to familiarize yourself with the requirements and qualifications necessary to become a truck driver.
The first and most obvious is that you need to be old enough to drive. You need to be at least 21 to drive a truck over state lines, and you’ll need to get a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in order to drive a vehicle over 26,000 pounds.
If you don’t have a clean driving record, you won’t be able to get a CDL.
5. Find a Truck Driving School
Once you know that you can qualify for a CDL, it’s time to get one.
The same way you need to go to driving school for a regular license, you need to go to truck driving school to get a CDL to drive a truck.
The easiest way to do this is to start researching truck driving schools in your local area. Some drivers prefer to learn on their own, but most go to a school. These schools teach you how to drive and how to be safe driving professionals.
The Professional Truck Driver Institute certifies schools and training programs across the country, so checking out their list is a good place to start.
6. Gather Your Paperwork
From here, you need to gather your paperwork.
You’ll need your regular driver’s license and Social Security card for identification. You’ll also need to request your ten-year driving record from your state Department of Motor Vehicles.
You’ll also need to get your DOT medical card, which means you need to find out if you’re fit to become a commercial driver. You’ll have to get a physical exam every two years, so this is all part of the process.
7. Get a Commercial Learner’s Permit
Once you have your paperwork in order and your doctor has given the stamp of approval, it’s time to get your commercial learner’s permit, which is the stepping stone to your CDL.
Start by learning the handbook. You’ll have to take a general written examination, the commercial driving written test, the test for endorsements you wish to add to your license.
You’ll also need to take knowledge tests at your local DMV. Take a look at the DMV website for instructions, forms, and sample questions.
Once you pass the tests and earn your permit, you can apply to take your skills test, which will cover controls, vehicle inspection, and a road test once you pass the first two.
8. Know the Types of Truck Driving Jobs
Part of getting certified involves knowing what type of truck driving you want to do. It’s more complicated than just driving a semi.
For example, one of the most common types of jobs for new drivers is pulling a dry van, which involves pulling a 53-foot trailer hauling dry goods.
There’s also tankers, which are mostly used to haul liquid, or bull haulers who haul animals, or car haulers.
You usually need specific certification for each different type of driving, so make sure to investigate the types of driving to find what you’re most interested in.
9. Choose a Trucking Company
Once you’re certified and ready to work, it’s time to find a company to work for.
The most common starting place for newly-certified drivers is long-haul trucking. You can hunt around for companies hiring drivers with your specialty.
A good place to start is CDL Hunter, which will help you find newly posted trucking jobs.
10. Orientation and Training
Once you’ve found a company and signed on to drive, most companies will put you through an initial orientation alongside other recently-hired drivers.
This mostly consists of company-specific things like safety policies and training. You’re being evaluated to see how well you fit with the company, so make sure to impress them.
Once you’ve finished orientation, new drivers will go out with a trainer for a period of three to six weeks depending on the company. Once you’ve satisfied the trainer, you’re ready to drive full time.
How to Become a Truck Driver: Find a Business
Now that you know how to become a truck driver, are you ready to start your new career?
It’s a process, but a rewarding one. We want to help you get started on your journey towards a career that fulfills you.
If you need to find a trucking business, you can take a look at our business resources.