So You Want to Be a Trucker?
So, You Want to Be a Trucker?
Here are some things you may want to consider...
Hello there! My name is Gary and I have created this article to help those of you who are:
A) Considering a career as a driver and are doing some research for some straight answers about driving or the trucking/transportation industry in general,
B) Currently in an accredited driving school trying to obtain your Commercial Drivers License (CDL) and may be struggling and looking for additional help from someone with extensive experience in the industry,
C) Considering a career in the administrative aspect of the industry such as becoming a Driver Manager (Dispatcher), or perhaps even a Freight Broker,
D) A current new or seasoned driver looking for answers to address a specific need or problem or,
E) All of the above!
A little bit about me...
Before we go any further though, please allow me to give you a bit of background information about myself and my qualifications...
I graduated from an accredited tractor trailer driving school in 1989 at the age of 35, but my fascination and interest in trucks and heavy equipment began long before that when I was in my late teens and early twenties.
My dad was an auto mechanic and I began going to work with him when I was 8 years old, so technically I suppose you could say I began with a mechanical background. However, by the time I had graduated from high school, my interests were leaning more towards wanting to learn about bigger vehicles and equipment as opposed to just automobiles.
Time to serve my country and help achieve my goals...
By the time I was 20 years old, I decided I wanted to go to school to learn about diesel and big trucks and heavy equipment, but even with all of the infinite knowledge of a twenty year old (its okay to laugh, I am), I couldn't figure out any way other than joining the military to get the education I needed without having to actually pay for it, so I enlisted in the US Army. After graduating at the top of my class I worked as a diesel mechanic both in and out of the Army for a couple of years until I figured out that this was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life for several reasons. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that during the time I had worked on these monster vehicles, I came to the conclusion that driving these things was WAY easier and more fun than actually working on them, and as a driver/operator I had no need to have a couple hundred thousand dollars tied up in tools, diagnostic equipment, and a box/cabinet to keep it all in!
Back to school I went...
So, after all of that, off I went to school again to learn everything I could about driving an 18 wheeler and the rest, as they say, is pretty much history.Over the next 27 years I spent most of my time on the roads of this great country with a couple of breaks here and there to get more education about the industry I worked in, to see if anything else in trucking could hold my interest the way driving had, but to no avail. I took a college course to become a freight broker/agent and even did some dispatching along the way, but I had been driving too long at this point and had diesel running in my veins and for me, nothing compared to being out on the open road, so I just decided to get back in a truck and continue to do what I do best and loved the most.
Talk about a grinding halt!
After resigning myself to the fact that I was never going to do anything else in my career other than be an over the road long haul truck driver, tragedy struck in September of 2016, and while I was at home for my time off (luckily), I had a heart attack which I obviously survived thanks to the quick actions of my soul mate, but which also put an abrupt and unexpected early retirement end to my career as a driver.
That brings me to the present, so without any further delay, lets talk about the pros and cons of the trucking industry and specifically the driving aspect.
On the positive side...Let us begin with the positive reasons for wanting to be a truck driver. First of all,
- You get to drive one of the most powerful machines on the road. The trucks of today are more powerful, comfortable, and fuel efficient than trucks were in years past.
- The view from your "office" changes by the second, and no matter how many times you may crisscross this vast country it never gets boring. Even if you travel the same route every week, things change...weather, traffic conditions, even the scenery. you get to see the most beautiful parts of the country that you may have never even heard of before.
- You get to travel all over the country and get paid for it, and you will get to see and do things you might never get to do otherwise. It is not all work and no play...There will be plenty of times you will find yourself spending a few hours, or even a day or more sitting in the same location due to layovers, weather, shippers or receivers not being able to get to you right away for any number of reasons, etc. Sometimes you may be assigned a load that will take you only two days to reach your destination, but you can not deliver it until maybe the third, or fourth day. This does not happen all the time, but when it does, you can use your free time to explore some of the local sights or activities. For example, I am a huge baseball fan, and I have over the past 27 years been able to go to every major league ballpark in the nation. I would have never been able to accomplish that had I not been a truck driver.
- You don't have a boss breathing down your neck every minute of every work day. You will have a Driver Manager or Dispatcher who is there to assign your loads and help you solve any problems you may encounter, but they are NOT actually your boss. As long as you get your loads picked up and delivered safely and on time, you can pretty much do whatever you want otherwise. This is as close to being your own boss and running your own business as you can get without actually having all of the other headaches and responsibilities associated with actually running the business.
- If you keep your driving record clean and you do your job well, you will always be able to find a job in the trucking industry. According to the American Trucking Association or ATA, the trucking industry has struggled off and on with driver shortage for the past 15 years or so. There are many reasons for the shortage but the biggest reason is that currently and for the next several years, Baby Boomers such as myself are becoming of retirement age and dropping out of the industry at an alarming rate. According to the ATA, The shortage was estimated at around 48,000 drivers by the end of 2015 and if this current trend holds, it is possible that could be somewhere in the vicinity of 175,000 drivers by the year 2024! The ATA goes on to say that over the next decade, the industry will need to hire approximately 890,000 new drivers or on average about 89,000 per year. I give you these figures to illustrate the fact that finding a job in this industry is not a difficult task as long as you have a good work history and clean driving record.
- You will be providing a useful service and contributing to keeping America moving/surviving. The average person may not realize it, but virtually everything in their lives was at some point moved by truck...think about it, building supplies, cars, the fuel to drive the cars, medical supplies, food, clothes, etc., etc., the list goes on and on. Without trucks, this nation would literally come to a grinding halt as everything would dry up and run out in a matter of DAYS! So yeah, from this perspective, truck drivers are a vital part of this country and economy.
- In short ladies and gentlemen, if you love to drive, want to see the country while getting paid to do so, and want to keep America moving, this may be the career for you!
Ah yes, the drawbacks...
Now, let us get to some of the drawbacks and yes, just as with anything else in life, there ARE some drawbacks and I will always try my best to honestly give you BOTH sides of the story...
- For over the road or OTR drivers, being away from home for long periods of time if you are single, this may not be so much of an issue, but if you are married or have a life partner and especially if you have children, it is much more difficult to be away from home, especially if your children are young and you are just starting your family. The divorce rate among truck drivers is staggering. According to research done by several different universities the rate runs anywhere from 19 - 25 percent as opposed to about 3.6 percent for a traditional, non dangerous line of work. It not only takes a special type of person to be a truck driver but also to be the stay at home life partner of one.
- Missing important life events/occasions such as weddings, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, school functions, the birth of a child, etc... These are all things you need to think about if you want to be a truck driver because believe me, you WILL have to miss out on plenty of these things when they happen back at home. Just try to imagine how you might feel if one of your children was graduating high school, or college and you were a thousand miles away and not able to get there on time? I'm not saying this happens all the time, but it DOES and WILL happen.
- Loneliness is another major drawback for many if not all truck drivers. While some personality types actually enjoy their “alone time”, spending countless hours behind the wheel with little if any interaction with other human beings can be a difficult situation to handle. It is estimated that there are approximately 3.5 million truck drivers currently on the roads of this nation on any given day, and of those 3.5 million, the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics says that heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers held about 1.8 million of those jobs as of the end of the year 2014. Long haul truck drivers have some of the highest rates of illness and injury of all occupations, and a staggering portion of the illnesses are mental or emotionally related illnesses, so along with being a physically demanding job, it can also put a considerable strain on a drivers emotional condition as well.
- Your overall health is a major concern that must be addressed and thought about if you are thinking about being a truck driver. Although the loneliness and mental health aspects discussed in the last paragraph are also part of your overall health, I decided to give it it's own consideration because I believe for most people this may be the single most difficult aspect of trucking to deal with. However, I must also talk about your physical health as well. Finding a balance between your mental and physical health is I believe, the trickiest part of this occupation. For obvious reasons, any doctor will tell you that one relates heavily to the other. You can not be an emotional/mental wreck without it impacting your physical well being and vice versa. I will tell you that after doing this work for 27 years I was relatively certain I had the mental part of my job under control, and for the most part I did, but physically I was in a downward spiral that eventually ended up with my having a heart attack. Think about it...spending 11 plus hours a day sitting in the drivers seat getting bounced around while going down the road is only one aspect of what your body goes through while driving a truck. Along with this, you have to factor in your diet and the fact that getting exercise is almost impossible. With truck stop food and fast food being your choices for nourishment most of the time, you are not left with many healthy eating choices. Then you have to consider the amount of just plain stress this all puts on your body, and stress alone, as we all know, can be a killer in its own right.
- Another thing you may want to consider if you think you want to be a truck driver is the hours you will be working. This is not like a conventional “job” where you are on a set schedule and work the same basic hours/shift every day. Depending on how your loads run, you may be lucky enough to pick up a load let's say in the morning, run with it all day then find a place to park and shut down, eat, then sleep at night. But then let's say for the sake of argument that you get up early the next morning, head on down the road and have to deliver this load at 2 in the afternoon. Okay, cool, got through that without a hitch, right? But now that you are empty, your company has your next load lined up for you and you only have to drive for an hour to pick it up, but lo and behold it has to be delivered early the next day so you have to drive for the better part of this night to get it there on time the next day...See what I'm getting at here? I'm not trying to scare you off, I'm just trying to be honest with you and give you a real scenario that truckers deal with all of the time. Trust me, this line of work is abundantly more difficult than most people realize.
Hang in there with me, I only have a couple more points to make before I end this amazingly well written onslaught of information...ha ha ha!
- I'm not going to write much about this next subject because for one, it is mostly common sense and for another, I don't want to scare the crap out of you, but this IS one more thing you should carefully consider. Having to load or unload in dangerous places such as inner cities. Other than being in the military, or being a fireman or police officer this is probably one of the most dangerous jobs you can do. Driving on the highways and byways in America is one of the most dangerous places you can be also, and yes, this job can get you killed...I think you can see where I'm coming from here!
- Last but not least, I want to talk about training. Although this may not necessarily be a drawback for some, it most certainly will be for others. As I stated in the previous paragraph, we all know that our roadways are a dangerous place to be and since we all have to share those roadways, it is imperative to have the proper training if your intention is to roll down the highway or through city streets with a 40 ton (or more) piece of machinery. For this reason, it is not only important but downright essential that you attend and pass a good, proper, accredited tractor trailer training program. In 1986 the federal government passed a law that made all states require a commercial drivers license or CDL in order to drive a truck. Before this time, it was up to each individual state as to what type of special licensing if any was needed to drive a truck. I say “if any” because before this date there were a few states that did not require any special license to drive a truck at all and you could drive any type of vehicle with just a plain old driver license. The biggest problem this posed was not the fact that there were so many unskilled drivers driving big trucks on the roadways, but that if you got your license revoked for any reason, you could just go to another state and get another license! The CDL not only put an end to this practice by linking all states by computer, but it also required drivers in EVERY state to have the proper training and testing in order to get behind the wheel of a truck. This was a good thing in my opinion, and it also created the need for...you guessed it, truck driving schools! Yes, there were truck driving schools before the CDL came along, but they were few and far between and were largely unregulated. Now, in this day and age there is a plethora of CDL schools to choose from. You still need to do your due diligence before choosing a school because some of them will only teach you how to pass your CDL test and not necessarily how to be and conduct yourself as a professional truck driver. It has been said that you can train a monkey to pass a CDL test, but that will not make him a truck driver, and I believe that is true. This is an important point because there are tons of information and skills you need to absorb before you can truly be a professional driver and a two or three week fly-by-night school will not even scratch the surface of what you need to know to be a safe and knowledgeable professional driver.
I will get more in depth on truck driving schools and training programs in my next article, but for now I believe I have given you some pretty solid and extensive information to help you make up your mind about if you want to pursue this career any further.
In the meantime, don't be afraid to keep researching this line of work...you can find out a lot on the internet obviously, but the best way to find out about this industry is to ask questions to the people who do it every day...talk to other truck drivers if you have a chance. If you have a truck stop, or a restaurant nearby where you live that truckers frequent, go sit at the lunch counter and have a meal or cup of coffee and strike up a conversation with some of the people who are actually out there doing this for a living. One thing you will find out about most truckers is that most of them are personable and more than willing to answer your questions if you are straightforward and respectful to them. Remember, they spend many lonely hours without human interaction, so for the most part they love to talk, and they love to talk about trucks in general and their profession!
So, for now I will bid you farewell and be sure to watch for my next article in the coming days titled “Trucking schools...the good, the bad, and the ridiculous!”
Safe travels friend and may God bless you and yours...Peace!
My daughter and I and my truck in our driveway after returning home...
© 2017 Gary