A truck driver is a demanding job in the US.
Truck drivers are essential to the economic supply chain because they are responsible for hauling almost anything from coast to coast.
The trucking industry generates hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue and, also, the trucking industry moves 71% of all freight in the US.
Truck driving is a rewarding career. No wonder why so many people want to follow this path.
Many truck drivers earn pretty decent money, which allows them to live decent lives.
If you are excited by all these facts and you want to know how to become a truck driver, I got you covered.
Today, I'll walk you through the steps of becoming a CDL truck driver in the US.
What does a truck driver do?
Truck drivers operate massive motor vehicles such as 18-wheel tractor-trailers and tankers.
Some work as independent contractors, while others work for a commercial fleets or transportation companies.
Short introduction to becoming a truck driver process
The process of becoming a truck driver can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
The training won't just include the road rules.
During the truck driving course, you'll learn about:
- How to inspect your vehicle for safety.
- How to plan and manage long trips.
- How to secure the freight.
- You'll learn basic customer service skills such as how to communicate with your dispatchers and customers.
Before considering the steps to becoming a truck driver, make sure that you are 21 or, in case, you are between 18 and 21, you need to have a learner's permit.
Research the truck driver Job to see if it 's right for you
Before you start a career as a truck driver, try to understand if this type of career is your desire in the long term.
For that, research the in's and out's of the truck driver's career.
There is a lot of content online on this topic. Watch Youtube videos and read blog articles where truck drivers share their experiences about their careers.
One article that stood out to me was Brett Aquila's So You're Thinking About Becoming a Truck Driver? article. In this article, he shares his experience about what is it like to be on the road for weeks and months. Where do you eat? How do you entertain yourself? And how does it feel to be away from home for so long?
Another good way to understand the truck driving career is to hear it from a real truck driver's mouth.
If you don't know any truckers, head out to a truck stop. Find truckers who can share with you what they know about this profession.
When you find one, ask him questions about the industry. What is the job like on a day-to-day basis? What is their experience in this career? What opportunities there are? And what is the truck driver's salary like and what affects it?
That will help you get an idea of what it is like to be a truck driver.
Steps to becoming a truck driver
1. Requirements for obtaining your CDL
So, if after doing your research, you still want to pursue into a truck driver career, the next thing would be to get a CDL (commercial driver license).
To involve into a truck driving school, you need to pass the following requirements:
- Existing driver's license. Drivers must hold a valid, non-commercial driver's license to obtain a CDL.
- Age requirement. Drivers must be 18 years or older to acquire a CDL and 21 years or older to drive across state lines or haul hazardous materials.
- Clean driving record. Drivers must have one to two years of driving experience before acquiring their CDL licenses. Their driving records must not include suspensions like acquiring driving points, traffic violations, DUIs/DWIs, failing to appear in court, or failing to pay child support. If drivers are suspended, they must refrain from driving for a designated time period, complete a defensive driving course, and comply with reinstatement fees.
- No criminal record.
- Physical and medical standards. Drivers must have a valid Medical Examiner’s Certificate, which acknowledges acceptable vision and health conditions.
2. Obtain a CLP (commercial learner's permit)
Not all, but some truck driving schools require you to have a CLP before applying for a CDL course.
The CLP is an authorization given to you by your state of residence. It allows you to get the skills required for a class A CDL.
You can take the CLP exam at your DMV (Department of Motor Vehicle).
Also, truck driving schools may require having a GED's (General Education Development test) or a high school diploma.
3. Choose the type of CDL that you need
There are three classes: Class A, B, or C.
The type of license you choose largely depends on the type of work that you plan to do as a commercial vehicle operator in the future.
- Class A: Class A is the perfect option for heavy-duty vehicles. It’s not just about tractors and livestock carriers. You can operate tankers too! Class A gives you access to many types of commercial trucks, including tractor-trailers, and flatbeds. This type of license is the most comprehensive option, and many employers seek out Class A certified drivers for their versatility.
- Class B: Class B operators are the drivers that move everything in a city. They drive school buses and public transit vehicles. If you’ve seen trucks driving around town delivering goods to various businesses or picking up trash at construction sites – you’ve seen a Class B driver.
- Class C: If you’re looking to operate a more compact vehicle, this is the option for you. It accommodates passengers and cargo in smaller packages while still maintaining safety features like airbags.
4. Earn your CDL and other relevant endorsements
When it comes to choosing a trucking school there are two options.
- The first option is to enroll in a truck driving school. These programs are usually taught at community colleges and they cost anywhere between $4,000 and $10,000.
- The second option is to enroll in a program owned by a trucking company. These trucking companies sponsor CDL students by paying for the upfront cost of training and they also pay the student during the training course. In return for this sponsorship, the student will sign a contract agreeing to work for the trucking company for a specified amount of time, normally between eight months and a year.
Once you've chosen a truck driving school, soak all the given information to complete your classes and training.
Before you receive your CDL, you must pass a written test and a road test:
- The written test will evaluate your knowledge of the various laws and safety regulations involved with truck driving.
- The road skills test will require you to briefly drive a commercial vehicle under the supervision of a state-licensed examiner.
At a truck driving school, you'll learn to maneuver large vehicles on highways or through crowded streets. You'll learn the federal laws and regulations governing interstate truck driving, how to back up a tractor-trailer, how to do a pre-trip inspection, etc.
After a few weeks of training, you'll be ready to take the exam.
Once you pass the tests, you'll have your CDL license.
If you attended a CDL training program from a trucking company, you already have a job and you'll head out on the road with a trainer to run as a team for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months before going solo.
But, if you did not attend a CDL training program within a trucking company, you will now begin your job search.
While being at the trucking school, you may also take endorsement codes on your CDL.
Endorsements indicate what you can legally transport and are essential for specialty vehicles like school buses and tankers.
Drivers can get endorsements to their CDL that show their ability to drive a specialized type of vehicle.
Note that you can take the exam or more than one type of commercial vehicle endorsement. The "combination vehicle" endorsement will allow you to drive semi-trucks, but other endorsements include passenger, school bus, air brake, tank vehicles, doubles triples, and hazardous materials.
5. Searching for your first CDL truck driver job
Some truck driving programs within trucking companies come with guaranteed job offers after completion of your CDL training. This helps to eliminate the stress of searching for a job after your graduation.
Many trucking companies have connections with driving schools near them. This makes it easier for student drivers to learn about different trucking companies and find Class A CDL jobs. It also helps companies recruit students right out of the trucking driving school.
Many schools will also have job placement programs or offices that can help you find a job in your area.
If your program does not offer job placement services, contact the trucking companies directly and ask them about job openings. Apply for the entry-level positions that fit with your qualifications and career goals.
How to Find a Truck Driving Job
When you apply for a CDL truck driver, make sure your resume or application is complete and accurate.
A standard resume and application will detail your previous experience, background, skills, and driving record which will help you receive an immediate offer.
Here are some quick tips to make you stand out from the rest:
- Accuracy: Ensure that the required information is accurate. Missing previous employers, accidents, or background information will delay the hiring decision.
- Understand the job opportunity: Research and know early on which job you’re interested in pursuing.
- Be ready with supporting information: You will need your driver’s license, social security cards, employment information, ticket numbers, etc. If you are not prepared to answer the entire application, spend time collecting and having this information available to you before starting the application process.
- Be available: If you’re contacted regarding your application, be ready for the call.
Completing an application takes time, but it’s worth it if you want to attain a hiring decision.
6. Complete your employer's finishing program
Once you're hired by a trucking company, you'll usually need to undergo an orientation lasting three to five days.Attend an orientation.
- Each company will vary, but typically, the orientation will teach you about the company and its various policies.
- During the orientation period, you may also need to fill out paperwork, pass a drug test, and/or pass some type of basic physical exam.
- After completing your orientation, expect to undergo an official training period. In most cases, one experienced driving will be responsible for training you according to company policy.
7. Advance in truck driving career
Most beginner truck drivers start in the field of long-haul trucking, regardless of how many endorsements they received while taking the state CDL exam.