Over 3.5 million Americans make their living as professional truck drivers. That makes driving a truck one of America’s most popular jobs. Trucking industry trade associations predict that the amount of freight moving across North America will increase by 25% by 2030, ensuring a steady supply of new truck driving jobs. Additionally, the current shortage of drivers plus the growing recognition from most people that professional drivers are essential workers, makes the notion of becoming a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) driver an appealing one to many people. But professional driving is more than a job. It’s a lifestyle and one that is not for everyone. It has its many rewards and benefits, but it also comes with its share of challenges.
Here we’ve compiled pros and cons about the occupation of driving a truck to help you decide if it’s a good career choice for you and your family.
Professional truck driving has many benefits. Let’s look at what they are.
1. Good income
Truck drivers can earn a good income. How much does a truck driver make? On average drivers earn $50,909, while Over The Road (OTR) drivers who haul freight over long distances earn on average nearly $64,000 per year. Private fleets- those that deliver freight only for one company- often have much higher levels of pay. Walmart for instance employs thousands of professional drivers and says their drivers will earn an average of $87,500 in their first year. Owner-Operators, people who own their own truck and their own business, often earn a lot more. Drivers in most situations are also eligible for bonuses- most drivers earn many bonuses over their career. There are signing bonuses, safe driving bonuses, retention bonuses, referral bonuses and more. Bonuses of several thousand dollars are common.
2. Companies will train you and no college education is required.
Driving a truck is a well-paying profession where the “cost of entry” is low. Few occupations offer such attractive incomes and yet don’t require college degrees. In fact, you don’t even need to have a high school diploma or a GED to land a truck driving job. You can learn to safely drive large trucks or passenger buses in driving schools located all around the country in a few weeks. Graduates earn their license quickly and nearly 100% of driving school graduates find jobs within a couple of weeks after graduation. Many will have multiple offers and options. But many times, fleets will train you- at their expense- in company run driving schools. All for just for agreeing to work for them for a period of time after you are trained. That’s a pretty sweet deal.
What is needed is a CDL. You need to know the differences in CDL types as they qualify you to drive different vehicles and different levels of income. A Class A CDL qualifies you for hauling heavy freight in tractor-trailer combinations, double and triple trailers, tanker vehicles, flatbeds, and livestock carriers. A Class B CDL enables drivers to operate vehicles carrying less weight. Examples are delivery trucks, dump trucks, and some buses. A Class C CDL is a type of license for large passenger buses and other specialized vehicles. Most drivers obtain a Class A or Class B license.
3. Job Security
Professional driving is one of the nation’s most secure occupations, so safe drivers never have to worry about being out of work. Many drivers work for 30 or 40 years in the profession without any gaps in their employment. As mentioned, there is a national shortage of drivers today and the demand for freight to be moved around North America is increasing every year. The job market is almost recession-proof given the vital nature of hauling freight. And you are almost guaranteed to be hired right out of driving school. Another sweet deal! However, to keep this job security, you’ll have to do a few things right. You will have to avoid illegal drug use, and the excessive use of alcohol. You will also have to stay healthy enough to pass regular U. S. Dept of Transportation required physical examinations aimed at making sure drivers are capable of managing massive rigs safely around the country.
4. Good Benefits
Driving a truck can also earn you good benefits in addition to your pay and bonuses. Due to the competitive nature of recruiting drivers, benefits often start on day one of your employment. Trucking industry benefits include healthcare insurance- medical, dental and vision for you and your family. You’ll usually qualify for a retirement saving plan that offers company matching of your contributions. Most employers offer attractive paid vacation and holiday time off, or bonuses for working holidays. Some trucking companies offer drivers the opportunity to buy company stock at discounts. Others offer plans that help drivers become owner-operator through attractive leasing to purchase plans. Good employers offer employee assistance programs and services to help drivers stay healthy. Owner-operators have access to affordable driver-centric benefits through groups like Enrollment First that match those of Fortune 500 companies.
5. If you love driving, truck driving is for you.
Many people truly love driving! Driving cars, motorcycles, boats, and trucks! If you are one of them, professional truck driving is for you. You will not only be doing something you love but earning a good income while doing so. Plus, you’ll be joining an occupation that is safer measured by accidents per mile than “civilian” drivers. And if you are ever in an accident while driving a truck, the odds are that your vehicle is much bigger and safer than almost all others on the road.
6. If you love independence, the truck driving lifestyle is for you.
Many professional drivers say they are grateful not to have a “desk job” and they embrace the independence driving for a living gives them. Though drivers have dispatchers, schedules, and logs, they don’t have a boss sitting next to them or across the hall. They still have a great deal of independence and control over their day-to-day work. Many drivers say this type of independence is one of the best parts of being a truck driver.
7. You are being paid to travel.
Enjoy seeing some truly spectacular sights? If you decide to become an OTR or long-distance driver you are going to be paid to see and visit places in North America that you might have only dreamed of. You will learn a great deal about many cities and states in ways that most people can only imagine.
8. Some driving jobs offer stable routines.
If you don’t particularly want to travel all over North America, there is still a good driving job for you. It might be a Class B CDL job such as a delivery truck driver for instance. Class B CDL drivers usually have local routes and most get home most every night. They say this routine gives them good work- family life balance. So, if you are creature of habit and don’t have the desire for travel, this type of driving might be the route for you.
9. Camaraderie with other drivers.
Many truck drivers say that the fellowship with other drivers and the sense of belonging to a specialized occupation is important and very rewarding. Like service in the military or in law enforcement, professional drivers enjoy a brotherhood that comes from common experiences and from successfully navigating big challenges.
10. Want to make a difference in people lives? Truck driving is for you.
Becoming a trucker can be very rewarding. Many people want more from a job than just salary and benefits. They want to make a difference in our world, to see how they contribute to their communities. Like teachers, doctors, nurses and first responders, truck drivers certainly do make a difference in our society. Professional drivers are economically vital and essential. After all, most anything anyone owns, eats, drinks, or uses was delivered by a truck driver. Increasingly most people are understanding this and giving these difference makers the respect and gratitude, they deserve.
While there are a lot of positives about becoming a professional CDL driver, there are some negatives that are important for you to understand before going into this profession. The best way to prepare for these negatives is to be aware of them in advance! Here are a few of the ones you’ll need to consider and discuss with your spouse or loved ones.
1. Driving is a stressful lifestyle that can affect your health.
Stress is a part of every job and a part of all our lives. But professional drivers must cope with stresses most of us simply don’t encounter in our jobs. Stresses like safely handling an 80,000-pound vehicle through roads crowded with drivers who don’t understand what it takes to drive a truck safely. Or delays due to weather, accidents, or mechanical problems. Plus, what others take for granted like simply getting good food, rest, and opportunities for exercise while on the road can be an enormous challenge. Over time, these challenges can take a toll on drivers’ health and wellbeing. Smart drivers learn to pack nutritious meals instead of relying on poor food choices on the road and get as much rest as possible. Being smart and being flexible is key.
2. Professional driving can mean you are away from your home and family a great deal.
This is another type of stress, both for you and your spouse. If you have children, this can mean your spouse has to be ready to take on more of the parenting duties and tasks around managing your family finances. Missing family events and children’s milestones can also take its toll on drivers. Being away from home can place a strain on marital relationships. Be sure to discuss all these stresses that come with driving with your loved ones before embarking on a career in driving.
3. Loneliness can place a psychological strain on drivers.
Aside from the stress of driving, loneliness is often a common challenge for long-distance driving. Getting too lonely can lead to psychological distress and to making poor decisions. Even Class B CDL drivers often have minimal interactions with other people throughout their workday. What does this mean for you? If you are an extrovert- one who can’t get enough of being around people- then professional driving might not be a great fit for you. At the same time, keep in mind there are options to overcome the social isolation of driving. One is the option of working with a co-driver or a team driver. Many owner-operators are couples and take their enjoyable companionship on the road. Many carriers understand the value of pets and permit our furry pet companions to accompany drivers on the road.
4. Hygiene can be a challenge.
Be prepared for personal hygiene challenges on the road. Truck stops offer showers, but the quality and cleanliness vary and can often be much less than you are used to in your home. Bathrooms on the road can be equally difficult. Drivers are also at higher risk for infectious diseases, like COVID-19, given the nature of their jobs causes them to interact with many people every day in uncontrolled situations.
5. Expect frustrations and learn patience
Drivers often encounter situations where they are not making money because they are not moving freight. Such as delays in loading or unloading, or sitting in traffic jams, or experiencing weather-related delays. Driver priorities are sometimes not the priorities of shippers and the difficult personalities drivers encounter can present more frustration. Experience, patience, and adaptability are good countermeasures.
Truck driving is like everything in life. There are pros and cons, positives and negatives to a career as a professional truck driver. For many people, they find it to be a well-compensated, rewarding occupation that offers steady employment and a good deal of personal freedom. For others, its challenges make it a poor choice for the driver and his or her family. Now you can make a better-informed decision about becoming a professional truck driver because you have the facts to help you decide if it’s right for you.
Is truck driving worth it? Millions of people think it is. And I’m grateful for them.
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