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Is Trucking Worth It Anymore?

by Brett Aquila

Would you accept a career with no opportunity for advancement if it meant living a lifestyle you would rarely find anywhere else?

Would it be worth risking your life every day for the satisfaction of knowing you're moving our economy forward and making people's lives easier?

Would you give up your personal privacy and leave your home for weeks at a time to put food on the table and a roof over your family's head?

These are just a few of the tough questions you may be asking yourself right now. Wages in trucking have stagnated over the years while the scrutiny you endure, the risks you take, and the challenges you face only grow with time. Traffic gets tougher by the day. The weather can sweep in and wipe you out in an instant and there's always another warm body ready for the opportunity to take your place.

Whether or not you decide to take a shot at life in the trucking industry is a complex and difficult decision for most. I'll tell you what trucking is to me and maybe that will help you decide if it would be right for you.

What I Like About Today's Trucking Industry

There's a lot to love about trucking today:

The equipment is beautiful. There is more technology and comfort in today's trucks than ever before. The visibility is great, the safety features continue to evolve, the communication and navigation technologies have never been better, and the paint is oh-so-shiny.

The pay is solid. Even though wages have remained about the same over the past 25 years, it's still a solid paying blue collar job. There aren't too many opportunities to make $40,000-$50,000 a year in today's blue collar market.

Demand is high. If you get a little OTR experience and you can keep your license, your safety record, and your service record in solid standing you could make 10 phone calls and have 10 job offers before lunchtime on any given day. You'll never have to worry about having a job.

More home time opportunities. Freight is far more regionalized today than it was in years past which has given trucking companies the opportunity to get people home more often.

What I Dislike About Today's Trucking Industry

There's a lot to dislike about trucking today.

The scrutiny is brutal. Getting started in trucking means background checks, drug tests, physicals, credit checks, fingerprinting (Hazmat endorsement), employment verification, and endless piles of rules and regulations. Babysitting the President's kids would probably mean jumping through fewer hoops than becoming a truck driver.

The enforcement is very strict. You will have cameras on you most of the time, and sometimes even in the cab. Your engine will report your driving and idling habits to your company. The scale houses will scan you and track your truck's every movement. You can be pulled over anytime and searched inside and out, including the cab, without provocation. And every inspection, ticket, and accident will be tracked, scored, and reported to more entities than you would ever imagine. Everyone knows pretty much everything you're doing all the time, therefore it is far easier to lose your job today than ever before.

The traffic is unbearable. For decades now the growth in the amount of traffic on the roads has far outpaced the rate of expansion. Traffic gets worse by the day and people drive crazier than ever, partly because they have more devices to distract them than ever before.

The pay has stagnated. Although it is still a solid paying blue collar job, the pay is the same now as it was when I started in '93. Adjusted for inflation you would need to make $64,000 today to have the same spending power as $40,000 had in '93. Unfortunately today's rookie drivers will be lucky to make $40,000 their first year, meaning they'll have about half the spending power I had as a rookie back in the 1993.

Would I Become A Truck Driver Today?

If I was excited about living the travelling lifestyle I would definitely drive a truck today. The lifestyle of an OTR trucker is what makes trucking worth doing in my opinion. See, you're taking a lot of risk and making a lot of sacrifices as an OTR driver. Making $40,000-$50,000 per year alone doesn't make it worth doing for many people, especially if they have a family or a great social life they're leaving behind.

But over the years I made an adventure out of it in a big way. I went to everything I could find from dirt track racing on a Friday night to NCAA football games, NFL games, NASCAR, NHRA, and dozens of small town high school football games on Friday nights.

I spent weekends in Vegas, New Orleans, Miami, Seattle, and about every major metropolis over the years and had a blast. I saw just about everything. And some of the most enjoyable memories you'll have will be from places you wouldn't expect like Albuquerque, New Mexico or Two Guns, Arizona.

You can visit Niagara Falls or Yosemite and see some of the greatest wonders of the world. You can ski, skydive, surf, scuba dive, go hiking or mountain climbing if you're ambitious enough. You can do more in a year on the road than most people could do in a lifetime of living at home and working 9 to 5.

On The Other Hand...

I would not become a truck driver today if I was simply looking for a way to stay at home and make a living. There are tons of drivers that get home every night to their families and they love their local driving jobs. No question about it. But there are a lot of careers with more room for advancement, better opportunities to make more money in the future, are far less risky, require far less scrutiny and sacrifice, give you opportunities to make extra income on the side (think an electrician or auto mechanic), and would more easily allow you to run your own business someday if you so choose.

So What Are You Saying?

The bottom line is you have to be ambitious and adventurous to really thrive in OTR trucking, even if you plan on being home every night. Adventure doesn't necessarily mean running coast to coast. Delivering everyday in downtown Chicago, Boston, or New York is quite the adventure you can be sure. To really get the most out of life on the road you have to approach every moment as a new challenge, part of a great adventure, and really try to live it to the fullest.

Some people thrive in a safe, simple environment. Others prefer an endless stream of challenges and adventures. Trucking isn't for the faint of heart nor those seeking shelter from risk and sacrifice. Trucking will give you an opportunity if you would like to take a shot. Just make sure know what you're getting into and be careful what you wish for.

What Do You Think?

We have a discussion going in our forum about whether or not trucking seems worth it to you. We'd love to hear your thoughts on a career in today's trucking industry and what factors you considered in making your decision.

HAZMAT:

Hazardous Materials

Explosive, flammable, poisonous or otherwise potentially dangerous cargo. Large amounts of especially hazardous cargo are required to be placarded under HAZMAT regulations

Regional:

Regional Route

Usually refers to a driver hauling freight within one particular region of the country. You might be in the "Southeast Regional Division" or "Midwest Regional". Regional route drivers often get home on the weekends which is one of the main appeals for this type of route.

OTR:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

by Brett Aquila

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About Us

TruckingTruth was founded by Brett Aquila (that's me!), a 15 year truck driving veteran, in January 2007. After 15 years on the road I wanted to help people understand the trucking industry and everything that came with the career and lifestyle of an over the road trucker. We'll help you make the right choices and prepare for a great start to your trucking career.

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Becoming A Truck Driver

Becoming A Truck Driver is a dream we've all pondered at some point in our lives. We've all wondered if the adventure and challenges of life on the open road would suit us better than the ordinary day to day lives we've always known. At TruckingTruth we'll help you decide if trucking is right for you and help you get your career off to a great start.

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