Truck driving is an incredibly demanding job that requires a lot of risk, sacrifice, stress, and often times being away from home and family for long periods. The pay is solid and the equipment nowadays is really nice, but is trucking really worth it in the end? We'll take a look at the upsides and downsides of trucking and I'll give you my personal opinion on whether it's worth it or not.Join The Discussion
Hey folks, I’m Brett Aquila with TruckingTruth.com and welcome to another episode of our podcast ‘The Road Home’ where we help new drivers prepare for life on the road.
Truck driver wages have fallen flat over the years, and yet the demands of the job are as high as they’ve ever been. So today I’m going to talk about whether or not truck driving is a career that’s worth considering for most people.
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?
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.
Let’s start with what I Like About Today's Trucking Industry, and in fact there's a lot to like about trucking today:
The equipment is beautiful. There is more technology and comfort in today's trucks than ever before. The visibility from inside the cab is far better than it used to be, the safety features continue to evolve, the climate control will keep you comfortable in all weather conditions, automatic transmissions are continuing to make headway across the industry, and the communication and navigation technologies have never been better.
So without a doubt the equipment is fantastic and it really adds to the comfort level and enjoyment of the job.
So let’s talk about the pay.
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. And when you consider how relatively short and inexpensive the schooling is versus the wages you can make even in your rookie year, it’s a pretty low risk opportunity with a solid upside.
Now what about driver demand and job security?
Driver demand has been high for decades and it remains just as high today. If you get a little over the road 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 different job offers before lunchtime on any given day. So keep your record in good standing and you'll never have to worry about having a job. That’s one of the best parts about this industry.
What about home time opportunities?
Well freight has become far more regionalized over the years than it was in the past which has allowed trucking companies to offer far better opportunities for home time than in the past. It’s common today for drivers to graduate from school and immediately step into a job that can get them home on weekends. And with a little experience you’ll often find opportunities that will pay $50,000 per year or more and have you home every night. So the home time opportunities are defintely there for those who want them.
Ok so let’s talk about some of the things I Dislike About Today's Trucking Industry
For starters, the scrutiny a driver must endure can be brutal. Getting started in trucking means background checks, drug tests, physicals, credit checks, fingerprinting (Hazmat endorsement), employment verification, and complying with a vast amount of rules and regulations. Landing a job babysitting the President's children would probably require jumping through fewer hoops than it takes to become a truck driver.
It’s quite a tedious process, especially in the beginning, but it’s something that everyone has to endure.
Another concern is the level of enforcement once you’re in the industry.
The enforcement is very strict to say the least. 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 almost everything you're doing all the time, so it’s far easier to get in trouble and possibly even lose your job today than it ever was in the past.
Another major concern is today’s traffic.
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 are driving crazier than ever, partly because they have more devices to distract them than ever before.
And having to negotiate traffic in and around the major cities today is brutal. It’s not uncommon to waste two or three hours trying to get in or out of the largest cities, and even the smaller cities you barely used to notice now have huge backups on a daily basis.
Now let’s talk again about the pay.
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.
So the pay isn’t terrible by any measure, but it isn’t getting any better either.
Would I Personally Want To Become A Truck Driver Today?
Well here are my personal feelings on the matter and you may very well feel differently about it than I do.
If I was excited about living the travelling lifestyle I would definitely want to drive a truck today. The lifestyle of an over the road trucker is what makes the job worth doing in my opinion. See, you're taking a lot of risk and making a lot of sacrifices as an over the road 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 see and do more in a year on the road than most people could do in a lifetime of living at home and working a 9 to 5 job.
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. Now there are tons of drivers that get home every night to their families and they love their local driving jobs. No question about it. And there’s obviously nothing wrong with that at all.
But to me there are a lot of careers with some significant advantages over truck driving. For starters, many careers offer more room for advancement, better opportunities to make more money in the future, they’re far less risky, they require far less scrutiny and sacrifice, they give you opportunities to make extra income on the side like say an electrician or an auto mechanic), and would more easily allow you to run your own business someday if you so choose.
So if I was looking for a unique and adventurous lifestyle I think truck driving would be an awesome candidate. If I was looking for a long term career that would keep me at home I think I would want something that has better potential for advancing through the ranks, making money on the side, and eventually starting my own business.
So What Are You Saying?
The bottom line is you have to be ambitious and it certainly helps to be adventurous if you really want to thrive in trucking, whether you’re running over the road or getting home every night.
Finding adventure as a driver doesn’t mean you have to run 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 really want to approach every moment as a new challenge, as part of a grand 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 is it for those seeking shelter from risk or sacrifice. Trucking will give almost anyone an opportunity, but just make sure know what you're getting into, and be careful what you wish for.
I know we have a lot of regulars in our forum at TruckingTruth who have been driving for quite some time and they get home every night and they really enjoy their jobs. So please understand that I’m not saying you should only become a truck driver if you plan on living on the road for weeks at a time. That’s not what I’m saying.
I’m only saying that for me personally, I didn’t enjoy the job very much once it became predictable and I felt like there were quite a few others careers that offered more opportunities for someone who was getting home every night.
There’s a link on our podcast page to a discussion we’ll be having about this topic and I know a lot of our regulars who get home every night will be happy to stop by and explain why they love their job and why it’s so perfect for them, even though it’s not the right choice for me.
I hope you’ll stop by and check it out so you can get different perspectives on what makes this diverse career so enjoyable for so many people. In the end, all that matters is that you make the right choice for yourself and your circumstances and go out there and give it all you’ve got so that in the end, when the work is done, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy The Road Home.
I’m Brett Aquila with TruckingTruth and we’ll see you next time.
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