What Does a Truck Driver Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Truck Driver Drawing

Tim Liedtke 

Truck driver jobs can vary a great deal in terms of earnings, weekly work hours, the number of nights spent on the road, and the quality of equipment operated, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that this is one of the fastest growing occupations in the U.S. Nearly 70% of inland freight is transported by truck, according to the American Trucking Association (ATA).

A large number of jobs open in this field each year. There were approximately 1.9 million truck drivers working in the U.S. in 2016.

Some long-distance truck drivers purchase trucks and go into business for themselves. Although many of these owner-operators are successful, some fail to cover expenses and eventually go out of business. Owner-operators should have a good business sense as well as truck driving experience.

Truck Driver Duties & Responsibilities

This job involves a great deal more than just getting behind the wheel. You'll also be expected to assume responsibility for the following duties:

  • Assist in or supervise the safe loading onto trucks of the cargo to be transported.
  • Inspect trucks for safety prior to taking them out onto the road, as well as at the other end of the trip.
  • Comply with federal regulations and any state regulations, which are often stricter than federal requirements.
  • Report to dispatchers or employers regarding any unusual occurrences on the road.
  • Keep a log of all working hours and miles driven.
  • Assist in or supervise the safe unloading of cargo at the destination.
  • Keep the truck clean, presentable, and in good working order at all times, scheduling repairs and maintenance if necessary.

Truck Driver Salary

Truck drivers' salaries can depend on their years of experience and the company for which they work.

  • Median Annual Salary: $43,680 ($21.00/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $65,260 ($31.37/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $28,160 ($13.54/hour)

Truckers are often paid on the basis of miles driven, plus bonuses. The per-mile rate can vary depending on several circumstances, including the nature of the cargo being hauled. Self-employed owner-operators might be paid a percentage of the cargo's revenue.

Education, Training & Certification

Truck drivers must have a driver's license issued by the state in which they live, and most employers require a clean driving record. There are several other requirements for this job as well:

  • Education: Taking driver training courses is an excellent way to prepare for a truck driving job. Many private and public vocational/technical schools offer tractor-trailer driver training programs. Students learn to maneuver large vehicles on crowded streets and in highway traffic. High school courses in driver training and automotive mechanics also can be helpful. Those interested in attending a driving school should check with local trucking companies to make sure the school's training is acceptable.
  • Training: Training given to inexperienced drivers is usually informal and might consist of only a few hours of instruction from an experienced driver, sometimes on the new employee's own time. New drivers can also ride with and observe experienced drivers before assignment of their own runs. Other companies have formal training programs that provide classroom training, on-the-road training, and CDL test preparation. Some companies also provide classroom instruction covering driving regulations, general duties, the operation and loading of a truck, company policies, and the preparation of delivery forms, logbooks, and company records.
  • Licensing: All truck drivers who transport hazardous materials must obtain a commercial driver's license (CDL), regardless of the truck's size. Otherwise, a regular driver's license is usually sufficient for driving light trucks and vans in some states. Applicants must pass a written test on rules and regulations to qualify for a CDL, then demonstrate that they can operate a commercial truck safely. A national databank permanently records all driving violations incurred by persons who hold commercial licenses. A state will check these records and deny a CDL to any driver who has had a license suspended or revoked in another state. Drivers of trucks designed to carry at least 26,000 pounds, including most tractor-trailers, must obtain a CDL from the state in which they live.

Specific information on how to apply for a CDL can be obtained from your state's motor vehicle administrations.

  • Other Legal Requirements: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require drivers to be at least 21 years old and to pass a physical examination once every two years. Drivers must also take a written examination on the Motor Carrier Safety Regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
  • Experience: Very few people enter truck-driving professions directly out of school. Most truck drivers have previously held jobs in other occupations. Driving experience in the Armed Forces can be a strong asset. In some cases, you might start out as a truck driver's helper, driving part of the day and helping to load and unload freight. Senior helpers receive a promotion when driving vacancies occur.

Truck Diver Skills & Competencies

This job requires both physical and mental competencies.

  • Physical requirements: You must have good hearing, at least 20/40 vision with glasses or corrective lenses, and a 70-degree field of vision in each eye. Drivers cannot be colorblind. Truck drivers must have a strong sense of spatial relations to park their vehicles and negotiate tight spaces.
  • Communications skills: All drivers must be able to read and speak English well enough to understand road signs, prepare reports, and communicate with law enforcement officers and the public.
  • A clean background: A driver must not have been convicted of any felony involving the use of a motor vehicle, a crime using drugs, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or hit-and-run driving that resulted in injury or death.

Job Outlook

There is currently a shortage of qualified truck drivers, and companies are actively recruiting new drivers. The driver shortage currently tops 48,000, and reports indicate that the shortage may worsen to more than 170,000 vacancies by 2025.

Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that this job will grow by only about 6% from 2016 through 2026, which is somewhat on the lower end of average for all occupations combined. This industry is heavily dependent on consumer spending and the need for products and goods, so the economy can influence it.

Work Environment

Most truck drivers find employment in large metropolitan areas along major interstate roadways where trucking, retail, and wholesale companies have distribution outlets. Some drivers work in rural areas, providing specialized services such as delivering newspapers to customers or coal to a railroad.

This job has a high rate of injuries, largely due to the risk for traffic accidents, and can be physically demanding and wearing over long stretches of time.

Work Schedule

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration limits the number of hours a trucker can work to no more than 14 consecutive hours. This limit includes 10 hours behind the wheel and four hours dealing with other responsibilities, such as loading and unloading and writing reports. Hours are capped at 60 during a seven-day period, or 70 hours within an eight-day period, then truckers must take 34 hours off before beginning the next period.

They must have a minimum of 10 hours off between drives. Working hours do include weekends, nights, and holidays.

Key Takeaway

How to Get the Job

MAINTAIN A PERFECT DRIVING RECORD

Companies have a strong economic incentive to hire less risky drivers because good drivers can decrease liability costs for the company.

FIND A CDL TESTING CENTER 

A simple internet search will take you to your DMV’s website where you can find the details of the application and testing process and find your nearest testing location. There are also third-party testing centers available in many states, where examiners who are certified in CDL skills testing procedures will conduct the test. 

Comparing Similar Jobs

Some similar jobs come with less stringent licensing and federal law requirements.