The Truck Driver
If you’ve ever been on a road trip, you’ve probably spent some time imagining what it would be like to be a truck driver. Life on the open road… headed toward the horizon … crisscrossing the country, rolling through small towns and big cities.
Yes, truck drivers see a lot. They also fill a hugely important role in our economy. America is a big country, and transporting goods across the highways is a major aspect of logistics and shipping. Most of the stuff you buy online and in stores spent some time on the back of a truck!
You might think that all truck drivers are alike, but there are really two kinds:
- Long-haul truck drivers operate tractor-trailers (some people call them semi trucks or big rigs), which they drive long distances across highways. The job requires a commercial driving license (CDL). These drivers may be away from their home base for days or weeks at a time. They follow regulations about how many hours they can drive before taking a break, but they can also decide to drive during the day or during the night depending on their preference. This is the most common job for truck drivers.
- Local delivery drivers. Some drivers have more local routes and might drive smaller trucks. They transport goods across smaller regions to deliver packages to homes or cargo to businesses. They usually work more typical business hours, because no one wants a delivery driver knocking on the door at 1 a.m.!
Long-haul truck drivers say their work isn’t just a job, but a lifestyle. It follows a more erratic schedule; sometimes a truck driver will be on the road for days at a time. It’s independent work, and you’ll often set your own schedule, map your own route and make your own decisions. Truck drivers also spend long hours alone in the cab of their semis, with their own thoughts and the radio for company.
For some people, that sounds amazing. For others, not so much. It’s a unique job and unusual way to live, so it’s important to figure out if your personality and the career are a good fit. If you’re cut out for it, driving a truck just might be your dream job.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A TRUCK DRIVER IN GEORGIA
There’s more to it than working the pedals and steering wheel.
- Map your travel – that is, if you set your own route instead of following directions from a dispatcher. Some roads don’t allow heavy trucks, and it’s up to the truck driver to be aware of those regulations and follow them.
- Drive long distances, up to 11 hours behind the wheel
- Log all your hours so you have records that you are obeying regulations about work and rest hours
- Obey safety rules. You will have more detailed rules to follow if you’re transporting sensitive or hazardous materials.
- Do safety inspections on your equipment and truck, and keep your truck clean and running smoothly
- Take your rest periods (they’re required by law)
- Help unload the cargo when you reach your destination (for some jobs)
WHAT IT TAKES TO BECOME A TRUCK DRIVER
These are the traits veteran truck drivers say you’ll need to succeed:
- Good judgment. The highway can be a dangerous place, and you’ll be logging a lot of hours on the road, so it’s very important to always drive safely.
- Good health. Certain health conditions might prevent you from becoming a truck driver, due to federal regulations. Epilepsy and diabetes are two examples.
- Adequate eyesight and hearing. You will need to pass a vision test (20/40 vision, good peripheral vision and enough color vision to recognize the colors on traffic lights). You also need to pass a hearing test (it’s OK to use hearing aids, as long as you can still pass the test).
- Quick reaction times. Sometimes you need to respond quickly to emergencies or incidents on the road. So you need to be able to see, think and act without delay! That means being alert and also having the physical coordination to carry out the right maneuver to avoid an accident.
- Trustworthiness. There are a lot of rules and regulations to follow as a truck driver to make sure you keep yourself and fellow drivers safe. You may be randomly tested for drug or alcohol abuse. So you’ve got to be responsible and make good decisions.
IS THIS YOU?
Here are some things to weigh as you decide whether truck driving jobs are right for you.
- When you’re on the road, you’re responsible for a lot of your own decision making about the best routes and the best hours to drive them. So if you like to be your own boss, you’ll get that freedom. Many truck drivers also buy or lease the trucks they drive and run their own businesses; these drivers are called owner-operators.
- Some long-haul truck drivers cover the same routes again and again. Others have more variety. Either way, you’ll have opportunities to visit famous places and meet people from all over the country.
- Good pay. You don’t have to build up years of experience to earn a decent salary as a truck driver. After you get your commercial driver’s license, you’ll be qualified for a good job right away.
- Long-haul truckers can go days without seeing folks at home, and they don’t always get to spend as much time with their family and friends as they would like. This can put a strain on your family or relationships, especially if you have kids at home.
- With long hours sitting behind the wheel, occasional sleep deprivation and few opportunities for exercise, truckers can find it difficult to take care of their health in the long term. You need a solid plan to make sure you stay in good shape and continue to give your best.
- Truck driving is one of the most dangerous occupations. The potential for driving accidents means this job has a higher rate of injuries than others.
A FEW DETAILS OF INTEREST
How much is a truck driver salary?
The average truck driver salary in Georgia is $40,870 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2016).
How do you become a truck driver?
OK, here’s a quick rundown:
- Most drivers of tractor-trailer trucks have a high school diploma or the equivalent.
- Many employers require you to attend professional truck driving school.
- All long-haul truck drivers or drivers who operate vehicles over 26,000 pounds are required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). As with driving a car, you’ll have to pass a knowledge test and a driving test.
At truck driving school (a.k.a. CDL driving school), you’ll learn how to operate a large tractor-trailer — which is a lot different than driving a car. Because they’re so heavy, semi trucks have the power of momentum on their side, which means they take a lot longer to stop. They have larger blind spots and can be tough to maneuver. You’ll practice handling those challenges so you can operate heavy trucks safely.
Rules for commercial driver’s licenses vary by state. You can find all Georgia’s CDL program rules and regulations at the Georgia Department of Driver Services.
You can also get special endorsements added to your CDL if you pass extra tests. For example, you could get a special endorsement to show you are knowledgeable about transporting hazardous materials.
After you get your CDL training and are hired to drive a truck, you will probably receive some on-the-job training, too. You’ll have a more experienced driver along for the ride, giving you tips from the passenger seat. (Resist the temptation to roll your eyes and say, “Thanks, dad.”)
That training will last a couple months. Then you’ll be ready to head out to the open road!
FIND A CDL DRIVNG SCHOOL
Many CDL driving schools and truck driving schools are offered by private companies. There are also lots of programs associated with technical colleges. So you’ll have plenty of options.
Technical Colleges in Georgia
The Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA) and the National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools (NAPFTDS) offer advice and resources to help you choose a respected program in Georgia. Explore these links to find the CDL driving school that’s best for you.
APPLY FOR A SCHOLARSHIP
If you’re a high school senior and want to get CDL training at one of Georgia’s technical colleges, why not apply for a Trade Five Scholarship? OK! Bring on the application >
OUTLOOK FOR TRUCK DRIVERS
The number of truck driver jobs is expected to increase by about 5% between 2014 and 2024, which is about the average for all jobs.
THE VIEW FROM THE ROAD
Ready for some real talk? Get the inside story on the life of a long-haul truck driver from this long-time pro who’s been there, done that … and driven alllll the way back.
LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
Download this handy PDF for some facts on-the-go.