Becoming a truck driver can be a very rewarding career for many and also can provide a decent salary for you and your family without having to invest in a college education or expensive training. With that being said trucking is not for everyone, as a veteran trucker I have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. The below article “How To Become A Truck Driver” you will find a well outlined guide to help you avoid the pitfalls of the trucking industry.
A Guide On: How To Become A Truck Driver
The trucking industry is chalked full of mystery, romance and intrigue when in reality it is a very regulated and often confusing industry for those just starting out. It is very important that you fully understand “how to become a truck driver” before you take the first step and waste your time and money.
Step 1) Determine if the lifestyle of a truck driver is right for you? It’s not just a job!
Trucking is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. Most large trucking companies have an extremely high turnover rate.
The reason for such a high turnover rate is due to the lifestyle of being a truck driver. It is important to understand that there are many disadvantages of of being a truck driver as discussed in this article I wrote. Please at least glance over it before spending your time and money on a career that you may very well hate! Here are just a few things to think about that truckers deal with every day.
- Time away from family and friends – It is not uncommon for an OTR (Over The Road) truck drivers to earn only one day of hometime for every week out on the road. You will almost never be guaranteed to be home on a specific day either. That means you may miss birthdays, holidays or other special events.
- Inconvenience – Trucks do not come with a toilet, shower or kitchen. Being a truck driver means using public restrooms and showers regularly. Most drivers purchase the majority of their meals in truck stops but it is possible to do some cooking inside your truck.
- Limited truck parking – There are way more trucks on the road in most states than there is parking spots. This can be very frustrating and sometimes even infuriating particularly when you are exhausted and short on the hours you can legally drive.
- Stress – Deadlines, traffic, breakdowns, incompetent dispatchers, slow shippers, load issues and the trucking lifestyle can really grind your nerves down. Handling stress well is a key factor for all truck drivers.
- Irregular sleep patterns – You will be expected to to work any hour of the day seven days a week. At times you may be driving all night, day or half and half.
There are many disadvantages to being a truck driver as well as advantages and it is important to understand what you are getting yourself into before you attend a driving school or sign a contract with a trucking company that offers training.
Step 2) DOT Medical certification for truck drivers. Will you qualify?
When you are becoming a truck driver you will be mandated by federal law to take what is called a “DOT physical” and meet or exceed the Medical requirements set forth by the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration). Medical requirements have gotten much stricter in recent years and it is best to spend the money ($50) on a DOT medical exam prior to investing into driving school. Some of the more common medical issues that MAY cause issues are as follows;
- Any heart issues including high blood pressure and murmurs
- Sleep apnea or the possibility that you could have sleep apnea, snoring
- Diabetes and insulin dependence
- Must have 20/40 vision corrected and normal color vision with ability to tell the difference between green, yellow and red
- Recent hernia, back injury or surgery
- Blood sugar level over 200
Many drivers fail their DOT physical every year and it is important that you understand the medical requirements that you will have to maintain in order to keep a valid CDL.
UPDATE: As of January 30, 2014 you must register your DOT medical certification with the state you reside in at least 15 days before it expires or your CDL will be suspended. Only physicians on the NRCME (National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners) are permitted to administer the medical exams.
Step 3) Criminal background and driving history
Every trucking company that hires a new driver is required by federal and state laws to investigate the candidate’s criminal background, all previous employers within the last 10 years, any employment gaps within the last ten years, address history, medical history and driving record regardless of whether you previously have had a CDL or are a new CDL holder. Issues that may cause you problems;
- A criminal background (misdemeanor or felony) can be problematic depending on the number of charges, type of charge and length of time since conviction. See our trucking companies that hire felons page to learn more.
- An unstable employment history can also be problematic when seeking employment as a truck driver.
- Long periods of unemployment must be explained and can sometimes cause issues during the hiring process.
- Excessive speeding tickets, accidents and/or DUI/DWI can greatly affect whether a trucking company will hire you.
If you fall into any of the above categories I then would highly recommended that you start speaking with many of the large trucking companies out there that hire inexperienced drivers before you even attempt going to a CDL training school. Most of the larger companies will clear you or pre-hire you even if you do not have a CDL yet. This will allow you to secure employment with a company and will guarantee that you have a job after you get your CDL.
Step 4) Find CDL Training
Now that you have determined that you want to be a truck driver, can pass the physical and know that your background and driving record are not going to be an issue it is time to make a decision, how to get your CDL. There are two ways for you to accomplish this, you can either find a reputable CDL driving school or you can attend company sponsored training with a major trucking company. Below we will discuss in detail the pro’s and con’s of each process.
Company sponsored CDL training
Attending company sponsored CDL training can sound like a great and easy way to get your training and CDL but it is not without it’s drawbacks. The most significant issue is that you will have to sign a contract with the company that trains you for at least one year but most likely for two years. In other words you will have to work for this company until you have fulfilled your contract terms. If you decide that you hate trucking, the lifestyle or you are not home enough you will have to pay back the amount of the training. Each trucking companies contracts will vary significantly and it is important to fully read and understand the terms of the contract you will be signing. The good part about attending company sponsored CDL training is that you will have no upfront costs in order to get your CDL. If you do not have the cash or can not qualify for a small loan then this may be your best option. Here are a few points to consider when looking at company sponsored training;
- Length of contract.
- Payback amount if you do not fulfil the contract.
- How long will you be away from home during training.
- How much you make per mile vs how much you would make if you were hired having a CDL.
Private CDL training schools
Attending a free standing driving school can be a great choice as long as you attend a reputable, good quality school. It is very important that you thoroughly research the school that you are wanting to attend. People often choose the closest school to their home but your number one priority should be choosing a quality truck driving/CDL school. Many schools offer free housing and driving an extra 20 minutes a day may be worth the hassle in order to attend a quality school. Some of the advantages of attending a freestanding driving school are;
- A choice of trucking companies that will hire you
- No contracts to deal with
- Most trucking companies offer tuition reimbursement
When researching and choosing a driving school it is very important that you look for three key factors;
- No more than three students per truck, two is preferable
- That you have as many opportunities to pass your CDL exam as needed
- That the costs is no more than about $7,000
Step 5) Obtaining your CDL learners permit
This step can be a little different depending on the state that you reside in. Most states CDL permit tests consist of a series of written tests about the following.
- Air brakes
- General commercial vehicle knowledge
- Combination vehicle knowledge
In some states you must obtain your DOT medical certificate first before taking the CDL permit test.
Step 6) Obtaining your CDL
After obtaining your DOT medical certificate, CDL learners permit and attending a truck driving/CDL school you will take your final driving test. The CDL driving test will consist of pre trip inspection, backing at various angles and a road test.
Step 7) Applying and getting a job as a truck driver
There are many large trucking companies that hire inexperienced and new truck drivers every week of the year. Applications are lengthy and need to be filled out accurately. If you lie about your job history, driving record or criminal record they will find out and automatically bar you from employment. Federal and state regulations are very strict in regards to hiring drivers and the trucking industry as a whole.
Step 8) Attending orientation
After you are hired by a trucking company you will need to attend orientation which can last anywhere between one and two weeks. Flatbed companies generally have a much longer orientation that reefer or dry van companies.
During orientation you can expect the following:
- DOT Medical Exam – You will have to complete this even if your current exam is still valid.
- Company Policy – You will spend the better part of a day learning about that trucking companies policies.
- Road Test – Federal law requires every trucking company to give a road test to any driver they hire.
- Range Time – Most trucking companies will give you further hands on training about backing, turning and loading.
- Flatbed Training – If you will be pulling a flatbed trailer you will receive extensive training in load securement, loading and safety.
- Safety – you will spend a lot of time learning about driver and road safety
After you successfully complete orientation you will then be assigned a driver trainer.
Step 9) Driver Trainer Assignment
A driver trainer is a experienced trucker that takes inexperienced truck drivers out on the road with them and teaches them how to become a truck driver. This is where you will really start to learn a lot. Most companies will have you on the road with your driver trainer for an extended period of time. Your driver trainer will give you hands traing and a wealth of knowledge that you will need when you are assigned your own truck.
Your driver trainer with cover the following:
- How to get fuel
- Truck scales
- Sliding axles and fifth wheel
- How to get a shower
- Load securement
- Trip planning
- Mountain driving
It is very important to learn and ask as many questions as possible during this period.
Step 10) Truck assignment and your first solo load
After you complete your required time on the road with your driver trainer you be assigned a truck and your first load. Make sure that you inspect your truck and notify the proper department of any defects or problems before you leave the terminal with your first load.
Step 11) The first year as an inexperienced truck driver
Now that you have become a trucker every action you make will be at your sole discretion. You have a huge responsibility to yourself, your company and the public to be safe and professional. The first six months after you become a full fledged truck driver will be hard, scary, awesome, frustrating and exciting all at once. Once you hit your first year you will be very comfortable with driving and every other aspect of being a truck driver.
If you ever feel unsure of something ask an experienced driver, communicate with your driver manager and call your company’s safety department and ask. Safety should also be your number one priority when you are out on the road, backing into a dock or even walking through a truckstop parking lot.
Thank you for taking the time to read my article and I hope that you have a full understanding of how to become a truck driver.