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Truck Driver Careers

Truck drivers keep America moving and are the backbone of the economy.  There are over 1.7 million truck drivers in the United States that burned more than 37 billion gallons of diesel fuel in 2013.  Nearly every product in the world ends up on the back of a truck at some point, whether it’s transporting raw materials to a manufacturer or hauling garbage to a landfill.

What does a truck driver do?
Truck drivers are responsible for the operation of a heavy truck which can mean many things.  Heavy truck drivers are required to get a Commercial Drivers License (or CDL) issued by their state.  There are many different types of endorsements and restrictions, but the main license types are Class A, Class B, and Class C.  Drivers with a Class A license can drive any vehicle or combination of vehicles — such as a tractor with a trailer, weighing a total over 26,000 pounds.  Class B drivers can drive any single vehicle weighing over 26,000 pounds — such as a straight truck, dump truck, or garbage truck.  Class C drivers can drive any vehicle that doesn’t meet Class A or Class B definitions, but one that is designed to transport 16 or more passengers, such as a school bus or charter bus.

Don’t truck drivers spend a lot of time on the road away from their family?
This is a common misconception.  When most people think of truck drivers, they think of long haul semi tractor trailer drivers that they see on the highway.  There are many drivers who are technically classified as long haul drivers that will drive out and back each day, sleeping in their own bed each night.  There are also local truck drivers who do pickups and deliveries for businesses including food purveyors delivering food to restaurants, waste management companies picking up trash, and parcel delivery services like UPS and FedEx.  Alas, there are many drivers who choose and actually enjoy driving the transcontinental routes and life on the road.  For many new drivers there may be requirements to complete several long haul trips, where they are gone for weeks at a time, before working into a role with shorter trips and less time away from home.

How does one become a truck driver?
Since truck drivers have to be licensed by a state, all roads lead to obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License.  This typically means going to truck driving school to learn how to operate a heavy truck.  Due to the shortage of truck drivers within the industry, many trucking companies will help pay for a student’s truck driving school and some trucking companies even run their own driving schools in exchange for a student’s time commitment upon graduation.  Links to some of the largest trucking companies with these programs are listed below.

How much does a truck driver earn?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median earnings for a diesel mechanic in 2012 was $38,200 annually or $18.37 per hour, but many drivers are paid by the mile.  Since driving an 80,000 pound vehicle requires a lot of fuel and can potentially be dangerous, many employers offer both fuel efficiency and safety incentives.  It is not unheard of for an experienced company driver to earn over $60,000 annually.  Owner-operators, which are truck drivers that own their own truck, can earn over $100,000 annually.  While earnings may vary, truck driving cannot be outsourced, and with an ongoing labor shortage, truck drivers should remain in demand for decades to come.

What does a truck driver’s career path look like?
Although most truck drivers spend their careers driving, there are opportunities outside of driving that can become available.  Many recruiters in the trucking industry are former drivers, and often many office positions at trucking companies are held by former drivers.  Many of the largest trucking companies in the nation started out as a single owner operator that expanded to hundreds (if not thousands) of trucks and employees.  Whether the economy goes up or down, consumers will still buy groceries, clothes, and other necessities making truck drivers a necessity to keep the wheels of commerce turning.