Preparing For Your Profession In Truck Driving

by Tanya Bons

Truck driving is a special profession, it's not for everyone. There are two assumptions about truck driving, first assumption is that you will hop in the truck and no one will see you for months, the second assumption is that you'll get your CDL today and a local job tomorrow. Both assumptions have some validity but neither is entirely true, all potential CDL students should research the industry.

The first assumption, OTR (over the road), companies can keep you on the road for months, but it's not the norm. Most of the OTR companies that hire new drivers have regional routes available. The average regional driver is home every week; though some regional routes will have drivers home every two or three days and some every two weeks. Do your homework, go online and find trucking companies in your area that hire students and see what they offer as far as home time.

Can You Find Local Work Straight Out Of Truck Driving School?

The second assumption, in regards to local jobs, is wishful thinking. There are local jobs for new drivers but they are often a "lucky find". Most of the local companies are smaller and use insurance brokers that review potential hires. A student that graduated from truck driving school last week is often not the insurance company's first choice. Many more local companies would hire drivers out of school if their insurance companies would allow them.

As far as the companies that do hire students, it's often a "right place, right time" type of placement. Local jobs are hard to find, especially in this 2009 economy; be wary of anyone that guarantees you placement in a local job straight out of school.

Are Trucking Jobs Available In A Poor Economy?

There are some things that must be said about being a truck driver; in an economy where many people are being laid off, truck drivers are still working and new drivers are still being hired. As long as people buy food, wear clothing, and use medical supplies there will be a demand for truck drivers. Truck drivers can relocate to any state in the country and still find work, and lastly, truck driving jobs are not age discriminative.

If possible you should try and talk to someone that is driving or has driven truck for a living. Experienced drivers know what it's like to hit the road day and night. Recruiters for trucking companies are salesmen; there is a chance that they've never been behind the wheel of a big rig.

If you don't know anyone in the industry, stop into your local truck stop, sit at the counter and listen to the conversations. It's not the same as "interviewing" a driver but it'll give you some idea of what it's like to hit the road. It's hard enough to prepare for a career change but trucking is a career change and a change in lifestyle. It is in your best interest to do as much research as possible into the industry, trucking is not for everyone.

What If My Record Isn't Clean?

Anyone considering a truck driving career will find placement easy if their last five years are clean. If you have a felony, a DUI , tickets, an accident, drug/alcohol addictions; if you can't pass a DOT physical or if you have a troubled work history you may have difficulty with placement. If your past reflects any of the items listed above you should talk to trucking companies or schools and confirm your ability to obtain a job in the industry.

How Should I Go About Getting My CDL?

Once you have decided to become a truck driver you need to decide how you will go about getting your CDL. There is basically three options; do it on your own, go to a company sponsored school or attend a public/private school.

All three options do have their pros and cons, you should do thorough research on all. Below is very condensed version of pros and cons for each option…

Getting Your CDL On Your Own

Do It On Your Own: If you decide to get the CDL on your own you will need a vehicle. This is the most common obstacle for the do-it-yourselfer. You can't rent a truck if you don't have a CDL and you can't get your CDL without a truck. People try to borrow a truck from a truck driver friend but often the friend uses the truck for work and can't guarantee that it will be available for the scheduled test date.

Testing for your CDL is limited. Check with your state to see how many times you can test and how often. In the state of Illinois about 70% of the people fail the test at the DMV.

If you manage to get the truck and pass the test there is always the difficulty of getting a job. Many companies are getting stricter with their requirements and will not hire anyone without some form of training, (riding with your buddy and being taught how to pass the CDL test is not considered training).

However, getting your CDL yourself is the cheapest way and can save you thousands of dollars.

Company Sponsored Training

Company Sponsored Training: There are companies that offer sponsored training which means that you attend their school with no money down, you obtain your CDL and then you work for the company for a specific amount of time. This can be a cost effective way to get training, especially if the company that you choose is the company that you would have gone to work with even if you had attended a private/public school.

The one major caution is to make sure to read and understand everything in your contract. Often these company sponsored schools sign up several students for orientation and they thin the masses as time goes on. One student is withdrawn because he couldn't pass a DOT physical, another because she couldn't learn to shift in the time expected, another has a family situation he must attend to and another feels this is all just a big mistake. If you withdraw or if you are withdrawn from class, regardless of the reason, you may be expected to pay the agreed upon cost even if you do not have your CDL. Read your contracts carefully.

With company sponsored training you must work for that company until your time is up. If you work for three months and you absolutely hate being on the road you must continue working for them or be in breach of contract. Again, read your contracts.

If you cross state borders to get your CDL it may not be applicable when you return to your home state. Illinois will not transfer any out of state CDL to an Illinois CDL. If you want a CDL in Illinois you will be required to take all six Illinois CDL tests, written and skills, just as though you had never held a CDL. More states are considering non-transferable CDLs so it is important to know your state's current and future policies if you are considering crossing borders for your CDL.

Private and Public Schooling

Private/Public School: Private schools normally have the most expensive training but it's often the best training available. Private schools are self funded and if they provide less than stellar training they will see a lack in enrollment and finally be forced out of business. It is important to verify the credentials of any private school. Illinois private schools are certified by the secretary of state. The state audits and monitors the schools and finally provides a state examiner that comes right out to the school to test students.

Lastly, public schools, or college run programs are available. These are less expensive than the private schools, sometimes just a fraction of the cost of a private school. Since the public programs are monitored by a college board the courses are can be more academic and less vocational than a private school.

Private and public schools rely on most of the same funding. They work with local unemployment agencies and their training grant programs, they take personal checks, credit cards and personal loans. Getting student aid for a truck driving course is not common.

What WIll You Need To Get Started?

Once you have decided how you will go about getting your CDL you should find out what will be required for that particular route.

Do-it-yourselfers will be required to get a permit, a DOT physical, and a truck with valid insurance and registration at the very least. Call your local DMV to verify the cost of testing and to see if other requirements are needed.

Company sponsored training will often require you to have a permit before you enroll but they will schedule your DOT physical and drug screen after you sign the contract. It does vary from company to company so potential students/employees should call to verify what is required.

Private/Public schools also vary on what is required but most include permit training and DOT physicals/drug screens within the course. Call the school to verify what is required before enrollment.

If your route requires that you have a permit before enrollment you should get your hands on your state's CDL book, (available at your local DMV), and start studying. If you'd like to get a head start there are some really great free test sites available online, including the practice CDL tests available right here at TruckingTruth.

DOT Physical Requirements

The federal government is in the process of regulating DOT physical requirements. Doctors have always been authorized to pass/fail patients for DOT physicals however the specifications of the physicals are not standard. An individual may fail his physical at the school clinic and yet pass with his own family doctor. The federal government is currently creating a program for training and certification of doctors. Future CDL holders will be required to have a valid DOT physical, given by a certified DOT doctor.

The DOT physical regulations haven't taken effect yet but all potential drivers should check with the DMV , possible employers and/or their schools to verify that they are obtaining valid DOT physicals.

Truck driving is a special profession, it's not for everyone. If you enjoy the destination, but live for the journey, then you should definitely consider the position.


Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.


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.


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.

Over The Road:

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.


Department Of Transportation

A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.


Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.


Department of Motor Vehicles, Bureau of Motor Vehicles

The state agency that handles everything related to your driver's licences, including testing, issuance, transfers, and revocation.

Company Sponsored Training:

A Company-Sponsored Training Program is a school that is owned and operated by a trucking company.

The schooling often requires little or no money up front. Instead of paying up-front tuition you will sign an agreement to work for the company for a specified amount of time after graduation, usually around a year, at a slightly lower rate of pay in order to pay for the training.

If you choose to quit working for the company before your year is up, they will normally require you to pay back a prorated amount of money for the schooling. The amount you pay back will be comparable to what you would have paid if you went to an independently owned school.

Company-sponsored training can be an excellent way to get your career underway if you can't afford the tuition up front for private schooling.


Driving Under the Influence


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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