become a truck driver

What does a Truck Driver (Trucker) do?

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A truck driver that operates ‘heavy’ trucks, drives tractor-trailers that deliver products, heavy equipment, livestock or other cargo in a safe and efficient manner for a variety of customers and businesses. A ‘heavy’ is a truck with a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of at least 26,000 pounds or more.

Watch a video to learn what a truck driver does:

How to Become a Truck Driver

become a truck driver

To become a truck driver, employers want you to have a high school diploma or the equivalent along with previous experience in a related field. You would typically work alongside experienced truckers for a period of time lasting anywhere from a few months to one year. Sometimes, apprenticeship programs are offered by employers in this career field. Of course, you’d also need to have your driver’s license before you start the next step to gain your Commercial Driver’s License (or CDL). A CDL also has various classifications ranging from Class A to Class C. The classification you qualify for will determine the type of truck and cargo you are authorized to drive and carry. You can learn more about CDL classifications from the DMV website (link opens in a new tab).

To gain your CDL, you must pass a written exam and then each state may have its own unique requirements after that. Some people decide to attend a trade school program that prepares them for the CDL exam while giving hands-on practice operating heavy trucks. Others may simply study the CDL manual and take the practice tests to prepare.

Employers are also looking for people who are dependable, have self-control, and integrity. You also want to ensure you can handle stressful situations, can stay alert for long periods of time and not become distracted, and that you pay attention to detail. This job requires you to be an independent worker with the ability to make sound decisions.

Job Description of a Truck Driver

A truck driver must always inspect their cargo and their truck to ensure it will operate safely and that cargo is secured with cables, rope, or other materials. It is vital they follow all appropriate safety procedures, especially when transporting dangerous goods. Along with operating their truck, they may also need to work any other equipment that may assist to unload cargo. Communication is also key to truck drivers. Many truckers communicate with one another on the road and report any road hazards, weather conditions, and other vital information that may be useful.

Navigating from one destination to another via the safest and most efficient route is also vital, so truck drivers must feel comfortable following a map or GPS, and also comfortable making quick decisions if an area on their route becomes inaccessible. These drivers work under time pressure every day and find themselves in hot or cold temperatures. Though they work in an enclosed vehicle for about 88% of the day, the rest of the time they may be exposed to the outdoor weather elements as well. Most truck drivers work at least 40 hours a week.

Free Teacher and Student Resources

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) hosts a wealth of information on its Commercial Driver Education (link opens in a new tab) webpage. They do offer study material to help you pass your written CDL exam, but those are not free and there is a cost.

Video Transcript of a Truck Driver

Excellent driving skills, quick reaction time, good hearing, and accurate vision form the baseline of what it takes to be a truck driver. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers transport goods from one location to another. Most are long-haul drivers with routes spanning several states, though some cover local routes only. Safety is a major concern in this field, as vehicles can weigh more than 26,000 pounds. Drivers must know and follow special regulations for carrying different cargo, such as chemical waste, liquids, or oversized loads.

Routes are assigned by a dispatcher, though drivers may use a GPS to help them plan. Truck drivers work for freight and wholesale trade companies, although some own and operate their own trucks. Their demanding schedules can keep them away from home for days or weeks at a time. Work hours, including breaks, are highly regulated, but drivers often work nights, weekends, and holidays.

Because of traffic accidents, handling cargo, and long periods of sitting, there is a high risk of illness or injury. Drivers must not have any medical conditions that could impair driving. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers usually have a high school diploma and a commercial driver’s license. Many learn their skills at a professional truck driving school. On-duty drivers are randomly tested for drug and alcohol use.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers.

National Center for O*NET Development. 53-3032.00. O*NET OnLine. This page includes information from O*NET OnLine by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license. O*NET® is a trademark of USDOL/ETA. RethinkOldSchool, Inc. has modified all or some of this information. USDOL/ETA has not approved, endorsed, or tested these modifications.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

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