How to Become a Truck Driver

Talk about job security! Truck driving of all types is a vital part of the nation’s transportation industry. Jobs in the field are expected to continue growing at nearly 5% annually (projected through 2031).

If you want to be a truck driver, you should know that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration oversees CDLs (Commercial Drivers Licenses). However, the steps to get licensed vary by state.

There are different classes of licenses for CDLs. And many choices for types of CDL work.

Being a Professional Truck Driver: An Overview

how to become a truck driver

CDLs are needed for various types of driving work, including driving a school bus, a straight truck (also called a box truck, no trailer), and a tractor-trailer.

There are CDL classes. For example, you’d need a CDL class B to drive a straight truck up to 26,000 pounds, a vehicle towing a trailer that weighs less than 10,000 pounds, or a school bus/passenger vehicle for more than 16 passengers.

With a CDL class A, you can drive tractor trailers, tankers and livestock carriers, which weigh more than 26,000 pounds. A typical loaded trailer used to haul freight can weigh more than 40,000 pounds.

In addition, there are required endorsements. You’d need a CDL-B plus the school bus endorsement (S) to drive a school bus. Other endorsements that can be added are:

  • T – Double or triple trailer
  • P – Passenger
  • N – Tanker
  • H – Hazardous materials
  • X – Tanker with hazardous materials

In most cases, you can get a CDL in 3 to 6 months, depending on the class, and then add endorsements.

You have other decisions to make as a professional truck driver since the truck driver job description can vary widely. Which is a better fit for you, short or long-haul trucking? With short haul, you’ll be making pickups and deliveries within a 150-mile radius and back home nightly. Long-haul truckers may be gone a week or more – but they typically earn more money.

There are also delivery jobs and construction roles that are similar to truck driving. For example, you may learn how to become a UPS driver, a pilot car driver, or a Walmart delivery driver instead of going the traditional trucking route.

How to Become a CDL Truck Driver

Before you start the process, let’s look at some need-to-know facts. First, you must be 18 to get a CDL. If you’re less than 21 years old, you can’t drive a commercial vehicle across state lines.

You must have a valid driver’s license and a clean driving record, no violations, and no accidents. You’ll have to pass vision, background and drug tests in order to get a Commercial Learner’s Permit.

Step 1: Check Your State Requirements

how to become a truck driver

Each state has a specific process for truck drivers, which is outlined in a manual for CDL applicants. You can get a manual from your state Department of Transportation.

Step 2: Obtain a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)

how to become a truck driver

The CLP makes it possible for you to practice. You must be accompanied by someone with a CDL license for the same type of vehicle. You can’t take the CDL test until you’ve had the CLP for 14 days.

Step 3: Study and Practice

how to become a truck driver

To get hands-on experience, you can opt to go to a truck driving school. A truck driving school can be found at many community colleges or be offered by professional companies such as Fortis. Most commercial companies(such as Schneider, Roehl Transport and Swift) also offer their own truck driving school. If you get your commercial driver’s license through a commercial carrier, the trucking company will pay most of the cost.

Truck drivers will also be required to take a written test with 50 questions and demonstrate their knowledge of safety features and driving skills. More on the CDL test later.

Step 4: Get a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL License)

how to become a truck driver

CDL testing is not typically offered at the same location where a personal driving test is held. That’s because more room is needed. Your state DOT will have a list of locations.

You’ll need to pass three parts of the skills test to get a CDL. There’s the written test; before taking that, you can take practice tests to prepare.

You’ll also have to perform a safety inspection of the vehicle. You’ll be expected to inspect the vehicle using a checklist thoroughly. You can practice with a written checklist, but on the day of the test, you’ll have to work from memory.

Of course, you’ll have to perform your driving skills while accompanied by the instructor/test grader.

Step 1: Check Your State RequirementsEach state has different requirements for truck drivers, which can be found in a manual for CDL applicants. This manual can be obtained from your state's Department of Transportation.
Step 2: Obtain a Commercial Learner's Permit (CLP)The CLP allows you to practice driving a commercial vehicle. You must be accompanied by a CDL holder during this practice period. You must hold the CLP for at least 14 days before taking the CDL test.
Step 3: Study and PracticeGaining hands-on experience is essential for becoming a truck driver. You may choose to enroll in a truck driving school offered by community colleges or professional companies. Many commercial companies also offer their own truck driving schools. In addition to driving practice, you will need to prepare for a written test that includes 50 questions on safety features and driving skills.
Step 4: Get a Commercial Driver's License (CDL License)The CDL testing is usually held in different locations than personal driving tests due to space requirements. There are three parts to the CDL test: a written test, a safety inspection of the vehicle, and a demonstration of your driving skills. Practice tests can help you prepare for the written exam, and you can use a checklist to practice the safety inspection. However, you must memorize this checklist for the actual test. During the driving test, you will be accompanied by the instructor/test grader.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Truck Driver?

how to become a truck driver

You can expect to get CDL in 3 to 6 months, depending on the class and any endorsements you seek to obtain.

To get the required training and skills, you have two main options:

1. Truck Driving School

This is a great option for a truck driver trainee. A professional school knows the state requirements inside and out. The school can help with practical, hands-on experience as well as teach specifically what you need to know for the written test.

2. Company-sponsored Truck Driver Training

This is another great way to become a truck driver. Truck driving companies like it, too – it gives them a path to find and hire quality employees. While you’re on your way to becoming a truck driver, the company will pay all or part of your cost. If there’s a downside, it’s that you are then obligated to work for that company.

What Happens After Getting Your CDL? The Next Steps in Your Truck Driving Career

how to become a truck driver

Once you have obtained your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), the next step is transitioning into the professional realm of truck driving. Given the high demand for truck drivers nationwide, finding a job should not be too challenging. However, you will face several important decisions that will shape your career. Here’s what you need to consider:

  • Type of Hauls: You must decide whether you want to work on short or long hauls. Short hauls usually allow you to return home at the end of your shift, while long hauls involve longer periods away from home but typically come with higher pay.
  • Union or Non-Union: You have to choose between joining a union or working in a non-union environment. Union jobs may offer better job security, benefits, and established pay scales, but they also come with union dues. Non-union jobs can offer more flexibility and sometimes higher earning potential but with less job security.
  • Type of Truck: You’ll need to determine what type of truck you’d like to drive, as there are different types like flatbeds, refrigerated, or tanker trucks, each with their own considerations and requirements.
  • Choosing a Company: Research prospective employers carefully. Look at the company’s reputation, pay scale, benefits, time-off policy, and the types of freight they carry. It’s also worth checking whether they have a good support system in place for their drivers.
  • Continuing Education and Endorsements: Depending on your goals, you may want to consider getting additional endorsements on your CDL, such as a Hazardous Materials (HazMat) endorsement. This can open up more job opportunities and higher pay.
  • Health and Fitness: As a truck driver, maintaining your health is crucial. Long hours of sitting and irregular sleeping patterns can take a toll on your health. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep should be prioritized.

In conclusion, earning your CDL is just the first step. Developing your career as a truck driver involves ongoing decisions and adjustments, continuous learning, and a commitment to maintaining good health.

FAQs: How To Become a Truck Driver

Are Private Truck Driving Schools Better than a Paid CDL Training Program in the Longterm?

With company-sponsored CDL training or course, you’ll be obligated to work for that company. On a positive note, that’s a guaranteed job.

With a private truck driving school, you’ll choose the company. The private schools have connections with a myriad of companies.

What is the Average Salary of a Truck Driver?

The average salary is from $50,000 to $80,000. The long-haul truckers are the highest paid. Adding endorsements, especially for hazardous materials, can boost your pay.

What Are the Benefits and Challenges of Truck Driving Jobs?

The main benefit is that it’s steady, always-in-demand employment.

The challenges include home-life and work pressure. If you’re a long-haul trucker, you may be away from home for a week or more at a time.

Work pressure includes being required to make delivery deadlines on time-specific freight. For example, you may be driving a refrigerated truck loaded with vaccines. Another work pressure is a heightened need for safety – you’re driving a vehicle much heavier than passenger vehicles.

Is it Easy to Find Truck Driving Jobs?

Yes, the outlook is bright with the job market predicted to grow by 5% annually.

Is Truck Driving a Good Career?

It’s solid employment, no matter where you live, there’s always a demand for commercial drivers. You can even consider starting your own trucking company or becoming an owner/operator. There are plenty of traditional and box truck business ideas and grants for trucking companies to help you get started.

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Lisa Price Lisa Price is a staff writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 4 years. She has a B.A. in English with a minor in journalism from Shippensburg State College (Pennsylvania). She is also a freelance writer and previously worked as a newspaper circulation district manager and radio station commercial writer. In 2019, Lisa received the (Pennsylvania) Keystone Award.