How to Become a Truck Driver

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Six Steps to Becoming a Truck Driver

Step 1 Pass Your State’s Regular Driver’s License Exam

Residents won’t be allowed to drive family autos or trucks without holding a current driver’s license, let alone commercial vehicles. By holding this license, you may qualify to start your career driving delivery trucks while studying to earn a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

Step 2 Complete Basic Education Requirements and Professional Training

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has found that most long-haul employers expect applicants to hold at least a high school diploma or GED equivalent, along with a CDL. In addition, serious candidates should attend and complete the curriculum from an accredited community college program or a private truck driving school. The programs run from several months to a full year, and some students may receive tuition assistance.

Step 3 Earn Pertinent Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Truck driving schools typically teach students how to drive trucks as well as learn the regulatory details to pass licensing exams. Schools should include a focus on the essentials of the state’s CDL exam. And endorsements matter. A “combination vehicle” endorsement can open the driver’s qualifications to include driving semi-trucks, hazardous material loads, school vehicles, and tanker trucks. Drivers must also pass the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation (FMCSR) exam that includes a physical sight and hearing assessment and a written section on federal traffic laws. Each type of CDL endorsement requires a passing grade on a skills test and/or a written test. You may hold a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) to gain on-the-road experience under the guidance of a CDL-licensed driver.

Step 4 Find Job Placement Assistance

Some truck driving schools offer the services of job placement boards and career counseling. Truck-driving associations and organizations (see below) offer job boards and career mentoring for their members. There are also for-pay professional recruiting service organizations. Finally, there are the general national job boards like Indeed or Monster that post openings based on location, driving experience, and training. Indeed.com currently lists more than 28,000 new jobs for CDL holders and for those with special endorsements.

Step 5 Complete Employer Orientation and Training Program

Congratulations, you have a job! The BLS reports that most companies require newly licensed employees to complete a proprietary, in-house training program. These can run three to four weeks. Often called Driver Finishing Programs, training sessions introduce new truckers to the vehicles, materials, and equipment relevant to the company. Student driving is monitored by a licensed mentor accompanying on-road training.

Step 6 Gain Experience

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, some employers will not hire tractor trailer drivers who don’t have two years of related experience, such as being a delivery truck driver. And experience can factor into total earnings for long-haul or semi-trailer drivers. On the road experience can foster networking with fellow drivers on job openings, learning tips, equipment improvements, or the value of gaining endorsements.

FAQ on Earning Your Truck Driver Certification

Truck Driver Salary & Job Growth

The following section examines the national average for entry-level pay for new drivers, along with the advancement in earnings pegged to years of experience. According to PayScale, the median annual salary for entry level drivers is currently $46,001. Mid-career salaries range from $33,951 – $73,938. Annual salaries for truckers late in their careers range from $37,474 – $83,426. Other income sources may include company bonuses, profit sharing, and commissions. Fluctuations in earning levels may depend on the employer, the state where the business is located, or the length of the driver’s professional experience.

Alabama Mean wage annual: $40,080
Currently Employed: 30,720
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 1%
Alaska Mean wage annual: $56,250
Currently Employed: 2,640
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 6%
Arizona Mean wage annual: $44,640
Currently Employed: 23,030
Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A
Arkansas Mean wage annual: $40,620
Currently Employed: 32,640
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 3%
California Mean wage annual: $45,560
Currently Employed: 137,930
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 7%
Colorado Mean wage annual: $46,990
Currently Employed: 21,990
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 20%
Connecticut Mean wage annual: $48,530
Currently Employed: 12,940
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 1%
Delaware Mean wage annual: $42,550
Currently Employed: 4,110
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -9%
Florida Mean wage annual: $41,150
Currently Employed: 85,390
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 5%
Georgia Mean wage annual: $42,510
Currently Employed: 56,450
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -2%
Hawaii Mean wage annual: $49,050
Currently Employed: 3,290
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 5%
Idaho Mean wage annual: $44,250
Currently Employed: 11,810
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 8%
Illinois Mean wage annual: $47,730
Currently Employed: 70,920
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 4%
Indiana Mean wage annual: $46,270
Currently Employed: 51,830
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -5%
Iowa Mean wage annual: $42,570
Currently Employed: 38,110
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -2%
Kansas Mean wage annual: $44,300
Currently Employed: 20,410
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 0%
Kentucky Mean wage annual: $43,430
Currently Employed: 25,210
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -3%
Louisiana Mean wage annual: $41,800
Currently Employed: 21,190
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 4%
Maine Mean wage annual: $40,670
Currently Employed: 8,800
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -3%
Maryland Mean wage annual: $47,230
Currently Employed: 23,640
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 8%
Massachusetts Mean wage annual: $50,580
Currently Employed: 25,790
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -3%
Michigan Mean wage annual: $42,180
Currently Employed: 55,560
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -2%
Minnesota Mean wage annual: $46,570
Currently Employed: 35,420
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -6%
Mississippi Mean wage annual: $40,780
Currently Employed: 22,570
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -4%
Missouri Mean wage annual: $43,480
Currently Employed: 43,600
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -5%
Montana Mean wage annual: $44,700
Currently Employed: 6,420
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 0%
Nebraska Mean wage annual: $43,590
Currently Employed: 26,540
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 2%
Nevada Mean wage annual: $50,440
Currently Employed: 11,630
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 2%
New Hampshire Mean wage annual: $44,370
Currently Employed: 6,320
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 1%
New Jersey Mean wage annual: $48,290
Currently Employed: 45,650
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 5%
New Mexico Mean wage annual: $44,860
Currently Employed: 9,940
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -5%
New York Mean wage annual: $48,460
Currently Employed: 58,870
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 3%
North Carolina Mean wage annual: $42,490
Currently Employed: 5,543
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 1%
North Dakota Mean wage annual: $53,020
Currently Employed: 11,000
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 4%
Ohio Mean wage annual: $43,990
Currently Employed: 74,310
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -12%
Oklahoma Mean wage annual: $43,130
Currently Employed: 24,680
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 2%
Oregon Mean wage annual: $45,600
Currently Employed: 23,290
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 5%
Pennsylvania Mean wage annual: $46,150
Currently Employed: 80,810
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -2%
Rhode Island Mean wage annual: $46,600
Currently Employed: 3,220
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -1%
South Carolina Mean wage annual: $42,260
Currently Employed: 27,610
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 7%
South Dakota Mean wage annual: $40,850
Currently Employed: 7,820
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 0%
Tennessee Mean wage annual: $41,510
Currently Employed: 60,350
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 0%
Texas Mean wage annual: $44,260
Currently Employed: 182,370
Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A
Utah Mean wage annual: $45,500
Currently Employed: 23,500
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 17%
Vermont Mean wage annual: $44,190
Currently Employed: 3,370
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 1%
Virginia Mean wage annual: $42,780
Currently Employed: 41,150
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -3%
Washington Mean wage annual: $46,990
Currently Employed: 32,030
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 10%
West Virginia Mean wage annual: $38,580
Currently Employed: 11,010
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -8%
Wisconsin Mean wage annual: $44,330
Currently Employed: 48,400
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 0%
Wyoming Mean wage annual: $49,420
Currently Employed: 5,910
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -2%
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The Labor Department reports that trucks transport the largest amount of freight in the country. As the economy grows, so grows the hiring in the industry. An increase in jobs may also be influenced by greater spending by businesses and households. Some 1,871,700 heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers served the country in 2016. The BLS estimates that the number of drivers will increase to 1,980,100 by 2026, for a total of 108,400 new openings. With many drivers reaching retirement age, the number of new drivers may be even greater.

Finding a Truck Driver Program

A lot of thought, research and planning should go into the selection of an educational program. Compare essentials such as the cost of the full program and how long it takes to complete the training. Does the program lead to a degree, truck driving license, or certification? How long will the program take and how much will it cost to add endorsements? Other key factors are whether the program combines classroom or online learning with a minimum of 44 hours of actual driving and maneuvering practice. Ask about the modernity of the equipment and how many students are assigned to a single instructor. Finally, compare graduation rates and professional placement records for each school under consideration.

The following search tool can streamline the selection process by factoring in the name of the school, the state(s) in which it operates, the culminating license or degree, and a listing of the subjects taught by the school or academy:

Professional Truck Driver Associations & Groups

Commercial truck drivers may spend considerable solitary time on the road aside from meeting their fellow truck drivers at fuel stops or talking on the radio/cell phone. But to succeed, a driver needs to network with other professionals for career tips, mentoring opportunities, and learning about new regulations. Other drivers can share advice and possibly help find opportunities and specializations that increase range of jobs. Here are some groups, organizations, or associations that look out for the driving industry:

  • AllTruckJobs.com

    Truck driving students can take advantage of informational articles and blogs about training and the profession. Recent topics include “5 CDL Student Driver Mistakes to Avoid,” “The Do’s and Don’ts of Trucking School,” and “Develop a Relationship with Your Trainer.”

  • Jobs in Trucks

    This organization claims to host the “largest niche job board” for hiring drivers. Connected with thousands of recruiters, it sends completed driver applications to hiring personnel and sends drivers alerts on job openings organized by route type, location, license requirements, experience and endorsements.

  • Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association

    For more than 40 years, with over 160,000 members, the OOIDA provides information and access to truck insurance, affordable healthcare and life insurance, information on federal regulations, news on law enforcement, warranty issues, and legal protections for drivers.

  • Trucker to Trucker

    A truck and equipment sales site, Trucker to Trucker has an impressive listing of state trucking associations for networking, trucking news, truck shows, training scholarships, and trucking jobs.

  • TruckingTrack.org

    The Trucking Track Mentoring Program was developed to help veterans, transitioning service members, and eligible spouses find careers in the trucking industry. Starting salaries from program graduates range from $35,000 to $65,000. More than 30 mentors help students network with industry recruiters.

  • TTJobs

    This membership organization helps drivers connect with employers or trucking associations offering jobs or internships. Members can apply for jobs, post their resumes, have their references confirmed, and participate in an online career learning center.

  • Women In Trucking (WIT)

    Some six percent of today’s truckers are women. A membership organization, WIT provides women drivers with a monthly magazine, weekly newsletters, a listing of career mentors, and “women in trucking” blogs. Great for networking.

Resources for Truck Drivers

There’s a wealth of information available online for current truckers or new drivers seeking licensing. Learn more about Federal and State regulations, safety issues, and ways to prevent illegal activities on the road.

  • American Trucking Associations

    Founded in 1933, this organization advocates for federal licensing and safety regulations. Its comprehensive news section includes timely articles on topics such as tonnage, driver compensation surveys, and rules governing online hours-of-service logging.

  • DMV.org

    Privately-owned, DMV.org lists CDL eligibility requirements, state-by-state CDL licensing requirements, and free CDL practice tests.

  • Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

    As part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the FMCSA regulates and provides safety oversight of CMVs. The website has details on regulations, registration, commercial drivers licensing, and road safety.

  • FMCSA Electronic Logging Devices (ELD)

    This large, informative section of the FMSCA resource site concerns the government mandates and requirements for the usage of ELDs. Learn how to edit and annotate records of duty status (RODS), certify the records, and how to collect supporting documents.

  • Transport Topics

    Designed for truckers and transportation managers, TT has current articles and statistics on government activities, business management, industry equipment, fuel alternatives, safety, technology and logistics.

  • Trucker Country

    while this is a commercial website, it lists the minimal Federal and State requirements to apply for licensing, how to comply with medical and physical regulations, details on self-certification, and a CDL Practice Test Center.

  • Truckers Against Trafficking

    With an estimated 40 million slaves today across the world that are illegally trafficked by truckers, TAT works with corporations and nonprofit organizations to educate drivers and law enforcement personnel how to identify and report trafficking and risks. So far, 570,000 people have gained certificates of completion for training by the organization.