Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers transport goods from one location to another.
What they do
Most tractor-trailer drivers are long-haul drivers and operate trucks with a total weight exceeding 26,000 pounds for the vehicle, passengers, and cargo. These drivers deliver goods over intercity routes that sometimes span several states.
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers typically do the following:
- Drive long distances
- Report any incidents encountered on the road to a dispatcher
- Follow all applicable traffic laws
- Secure cargo for transport, using ropes, blocks, chains, or covers
- Inspect their trailers before and after the trip and record any defects they find
- Maintain a log of their working hours, following all federal and state regulations
- Report serious mechanical problems to the appropriate people
- Keep their trucks and associated equipment clean and in good working order
Most heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers’ routes are assigned by a dispatcher, but some independent drivers still plan their own routes. When planning routes, drivers must take into account any road restrictions that prohibit large trucks. Drivers also must plan legally required rest periods into their trip.
Some drivers have one or two routes that they drive regularly, and other drivers take many different routes throughout the country. In addition, some drivers have routes that include Mexico or Canada.
Companies sometimes use two drivers, known as teams, on long runs to minimize downtime. On these team runs, one driver sleeps in a berth behind the cab while the other drives.
Certain cargo requires drivers to adhere to additional safety regulations. Some heavy truck drivers who transport hazardous materials, such as chemical waste, must take special precautions when driving and may carry specialized safety equipment in case of an accident. Other drivers, such as those carrying liquids, oversized loads, or cars, must follow rules that apply specifically to them.
Some long-haul truck drivers, also called owner-operators, buy or lease trucks and go into business for themselves. In addition to their driving tasks, owner-operators have business tasks, including finding and keeping clients and doing administrative work.
Working as a long-haul truck driver is a lifestyle choice because these drivers can be away from home for days or weeks at a time. They spend much of this time alone. Driving a truck can be a physically demanding job as well. Driving for many consecutive hours can be tiring, and some drivers must load and unload cargo.
How to become a Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Driver
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers usually have a high school diploma and attend a professional truck driving school. They must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
Most companies require their truck drivers to have a high school diploma or equivalent.
Many prospective drivers attend professional truck driving schools, where they take training courses to learn how to maneuver large vehicles on highways or through crowded streets. During these classes, drivers also learn the federal laws and regulations governing interstate truck driving. Students may attend either a private truck-driving school or a program at a community college that lasts between 3 and 6 months. Upon finishing their classes, drivers receive a certificate of completion.
All long-haul truck drivers must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Qualifications for obtaining a CDL vary by state but generally include passing both a knowledge test and a driving test. States have the right to refuse to issue a CDL to anyone who has had a CDL suspended by another state.
Drivers can get endorsements to their CDL that show their ability to drive a specialized type of vehicle. Truck drivers transporting hazardous materials (HAZMAT) must have a hazardous materials endorsement (H). Getting this endorsement requires passing an additional knowledge test and a background check.
Federal regulations require CDL drivers to maintain a clean driving record and pass a physical exam every two years. They are also subject to random testing for drug or alcohol abuse. Truck drivers can have their CDL suspended if they are convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or are convicted of a felony involving the use of a motor vehicle.
Other actions can result in a suspension after multiple violations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website has a list of these violations. Additionally, some companies have stricter standards than what federal regulations require.
After completing truck-driving school and being hired by a company, drivers normally receive several weeks of on-the-job training. During this time, they drive a truck accompanied by an experienced mentor-driver in the passenger seat. This period of on-the-job training is given so that the new drivers will learn more about the specific type of truck they will drive and material they will transport.
The median annual wage for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers was $45,260 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $66,840.
Employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average for all occupations.
The economy depends on truck drivers to transport freight and keep supply chains moving. As the demand for goods increases, more truck drivers will be needed. Trucks transport most of the freight in the United States, so, as households and businesses increase their spending, the trucking industry should grow.
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The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Trucking Associations
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
- International Brotherhood of Teamsters
- International Union of Operating Engineers
- Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association
- Truckload Carriers Association
- United Steelworkers
Magazines and Publications
Excellent driving skills, quick reaction time, good hearing, and accurate vision form the baseline of what it takes to be a truck driver. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers transport goods from one location to another. Most are long-haul drivers with routes spanning several states, though some cover local routes only. Safety is a major concern in this field, as vehicles can weigh more than 26,000 pounds. Drivers must know and follow special regulations for carrying different cargo, such as chemical waste, liquids, or oversized loads. Routes are assigned by a dispatcher, though drivers may use a GPS to help them plan. Truck drivers work for freight and wholesale trade companies, although some own and operate their own trucks. Their demanding schedules can keep them away from home for days or weeks at a time. Work hours, including breaks, are highly regulated, but drivers often work nights, weekends, and holidays. Because of traffic accidents, handling cargo, and long periods of sitting, there is high risk of illness or injury. Drivers must not have any medical conditions that could impair driving. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers usually have a high school diploma and a commercial driver’s license. Many learn their skills at a professional truck driving school. On-duty drivers are randomly tested for drug and alcohol use.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOne Stop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org