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Home > Feature Articles > Logistics and Vehicle Fleet Management > Trucking & Logistics for Efficiency, Fuel Savings, and Air Quality

Becoming a Truck Driver

Truck driving basics

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Becoming a Truck Driver

Over-the-road truck driving is hard work that includes a demanding schedule, specialized training and lots of state and federal requirements that you have to meet. Drivers' finances fluctuate and sitting behind the wheel occupies most of a driver's waking hours. Long-haul driving impacts drivers and their families more than most other career paths. Health, isolation, and boredom are offset with the benefits of good pay if you hustle, seeing the countryside, and the challenge of America's opportunity to grow into owning your own business.

An intriguing way to make your truck driving job more enjoyable and interesting is to "go green". Learn about alternative fuels, filters, LED lights, APUs, and aerodynamics. They all save fuel, improve the air around you...and can reduce costs dramatically. And besides, what else do you have to think about on those long hauls? :-)

Commercial Drivers License or Learners Permit

Commercial truck drivers,and drivers of vehicles over certain sizes must have a CDL, Commercial Drivers License.

Truck Driving Jobs

To get hired as a company driver, you must be eligible for insurance -- which changes with the times. Today you probably need that license for at least two years before you can get insurance coverage. Truck drivers will also have to pass drug tests, have a clean driving record, be able to pass physical tests and have interest and ability to take care of the daily mechanical upkeep of their truck.

Truck Driving Training and Schools

Private driving schools, public (state) driving schools, carrier-sponsored schools and personal training by an owner-operator are your options for learning to drive big rigs. Most employers also have training in safety, health, mechanical upkeep and corporate policies. Following all this driving training, and driver policies and procedures, you are most often put into a team driving internship for four to six weeks. They you get to drive for real.

But the driver isn't the only person involved in a truck driving career. Most truck drivers are married or have children, and those families also need some orientation and training to adapt to the long periods of being home alone, and supporting the driver's feelings of isolation on the road. The driver has to make more effort to stay in touch with family back home than he/she did when they shared the supper table every day. Missing important events like birthdays, anniversaries and sporting events also take creative action by the driver on the road.

Financial planning is also different than a 9 to 5 job. Most drivers are paid by the miles they drive, and that's on an irregular basis. After you pay for all the driver training, you have partial pay during your probation that takes adjustment, too.

It costs money to live on the road. These expenses are sometimes tax deductible, but you still have to pay for them upfront. You'll have to pay for your own food, laundry, shower, snacks, entertainment, and hotel rooms, etc. Even phone charges home can add up.

And if you are responsible for negligent behavior or tickets, you have to pay those unexpected expenses.

Truck drivers often need a financial bankroll to get them started and to get them over rough periods of illness, accidents or downtimes.

Driving Regulations and Requirements

As a licensed professional, a truck driver or owner-operator should be familiar with all the rules and laws that govern your job, your truck and the carrier. You are required to comply with these regulations and can be fined or removed from driving if you ignore or break these rules.

Federal requirements for interstate commerce include licensing (DOT Numbers, MC Authority, etc) and safety compliance regulations. Regulations vary by what kind of driving you do -- property, people or hazardous materials. States also add additional requirements, and every state's regulations seems to vary.

Company drivers are required to complete an application for employment (FMCSR 391.21), which has specific questions that must be answered. The US DOT - Department of Transportation has a comprehensive set of regulations that a professional driver must comply with. These range from physical and age requirements to driving records and experience.

To get your commercial interstate driving credentials, drivers need to prove literacy: that they can read and speak the English language well enough to take instructions from highway signs, to converse with officials, and complete required reports. Interstate truck drivers who do not speak English as their native language must still comply with this regulation.

The Federal Government (FMCSR 391.11) does require truck drivers to be able to "safely operate the type vehicle he/she drives" and be familiar with methods needed to appropriately secure the cargo. Driver must also be able to determine whether the cargo is adequately loaded and secured before leaving the shipper.

Drivers can be disqualified from operating commercial vehicles (FMCSR 391.15) if they operate a commercial motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol (blood alcohol limit is defined as being .04). If a driver has ever refused an officer's test for an alcohol violation he/she can also be disqualified. Driving under the influence of illegal drugs (FMCSR 391.15 (c)(2)), or transporting or possessing illegal drugs will prohibit a driver from being a commercial driver. Also, if the applicant or driver has been convicted of leaving the scene of an accident while operating a commercial vehicle or committing a felony involving a commercial vehicle, they will not be allowed to drive a truck.

Trucking common carriers are required to keep copies of all a drivers records in an employee's file, along with the certificate of completion for driver road tests (FMCSR 391.31). Each year the carrier will ask drivers to complete the annual review of driving record (FMCSR 391.25) and will update each driver's driving record and list of violations in personnel files.

Being aware of these regulations will make commercial drivers more informed drivers and will assist the professional driver in understanding and implementing the rules governing community safety and the commercial trucking industry.

Company Driver vs. Independent Driver

OTR driving is just one option for commercial truck drivers -- many drivers prefer to get a job driving locally at some point in their truck driving career. Intrastate or short-haul driving is more stable work and usually provides more time at home with family. The offset is the amount of pay these short-run drivers tend to make compared to long-distance, big-rig drivers.

Many short-run drivers are company drivers. However, that isn't the only career choice. Delivery companies can be started with one van, flatbed, dumptruck or tanker -- on a local or intrastate basis.

Company drivers work for one carrier or company and are paid by the hour, day or week. Independent truckers are usually paid by the mile, and the type of cargo, distance and delivery vehicle affect rate variables widely.

Many drivers start as a company driver to develop their experience, training and network of contacts. After several years as a company employee, they consider buying a truck and becoming an owner-operator of one truck.

Driver to Owner Operator

One major difference between carriers is the type of freight they move. You should be familiar with all of the trailer varieties and the amount of handling required for each type. A dry van and reefer may look similar, but the skills needed to attend to the product will be different and the delivery locations will vary.

Truck Driving in California

The land of the golden sun is also the land of compliance! It is especially important for truck drivers to keep logbooks correct and your inspections up-to-date when driving trucks through California. If California Highway Patrol Officers pull you over for speeding, it is fairly common for the police to check all your other paperwork, too.

The speed limit is 55 mph for trucks on most roads. Urban areas usually have fast driving by four-wheelers, and you will be pushed to maintain your truck 55 mph limit in heavy traffic. It's best to drive through metro areas during night hours or non-rush hours.

California is a land of diverse ecoystems. You have to navigate mountains and deserts, oceanside and urban areas. Winter snow and ice, and spring and fall winds that can blow your truck over. Urban heavy traffic and desolate wilderness areas leading to small agricultural coolers. Be prepared with the right equipment and plan your route carefully using trucker wisdom and the Internet.

Fuel prices tend to be higher in California than nearby states, and there are a lot of inspection bays and scales in California with an emphasis on properly working air quality/pollution equipment and logbooks to prevent driver fatigue and accidents in these urban manufacturing, agricultural and business districts.


Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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