Over the years I've seen a million new guys and gals come into the trucking industry with not only the wrong perceptions of what the trucking industry is like, but with the attitude that everyone better treat them like kings and queens and roll out the red carpet or they're outta here - and I've seen a lot of em get outta here in a hurry. I'm not sure where the mis-perceptions come from or why people expect to come into the industry with both guns blazing and ready to call all the shots, but as is our mission here at TruckingTruth I'm going to try to clear things up for the new guys and gals to help you avoid some pain.
First of all, please understand something. In our society, as you well know, you can pretty much get sued for everything you have if you sneeze in church. Can you imagine trying to own a trucking company? These larger carriers have teams of lawyers that stay in court every day of the week fighting battles. Everyone is out to get em. So companies are looking for people they are hoping will be trustworthy enough to make smart decisions out there on the road and keep everyone safe from harm. So if you have a bad criminal or driving record, including felonies, theft-related misdemeanors, DUI's, and reckless driving tickets for speed in excess of 15 mph over the speed limit, it is quite likely you will have one hell of a time finding work.
Even with a good background record, how does a company know if they can trust you? Well, you're going to have to prove it. You're not going to come into the industry and be handed runs from a company's prime customers, nor are you going to be handed all the gravy runs from Dallas to Orlando and back. You're going to have to put in your time and show that you are safe, reliable, and have a good attitude by being cooperative and patient when you're out there. And let me tell you something, these companies are going to push your buttons a little bit to see what you're made of. You've earned no special privileges, and you're not going to be treated like a king, and yet you're still going to be given a lot of trust up front. The rest you will have to earn.
You've completed your training and you get hired by your first trucking company. Man, that company is taking a massive risk. You're not a good driver, and won't be for a couple of years at least, if ever. You've proven nothing to no one, other than the fact that you can memorize some test questions and a few backing maneuvers to pass a simple CDL test. That, and your background check is all you have to offer. So what are they offering you in return? Everything.
The liability risk these companies are taking with you is enormous. It may seem like you know a lot when you come out of CDL school, and even more once you complete your on-the-road training, but let me give you a hint - don't ever speak those thoughts out loud - especially to an experienced driver. Soon enough you'll have some experience under your belt and you're going to look back and realize that it's a miracle than any rookie gets through the first year safely. I look back on my career, and I feel that way myself. We all do. So from day one, consider yourself privileged. You've earned nothing, and you have almost nothing of value to offer, and yet you're being handed the keys to a big, beautiful rig and heading out on the highway with a brand new career.
Rookies in every field - from pro sports to construction to crab fishing - are normally ridden hard and abused by the veterans. They're generally looked down upon by everyone that's been around a while, and half the time people won't even call you by your name. Well, again, in trucking you can consider yourself lucky. The veteran drivers may tease you some, and you'll hear some garbage on the CB radio about "stupid rookies", but that's just radio talk, and the vast majority of drivers are quite friendly and will readily give advice to those who seek to improve their knowledge and skills and show some respect and a good attitude.
But life on the road is extremely difficult. Handling a rig safely takes a long time to learn. Traffic, weather, solitude, not enough sleep, and time away from home take their toll and wear you down sometimes. And at the same time your company is going to push you to figure out just what you're made of. They'll give you two or three lousy runs in a row, try to assign you loads they know you can't legally make, get you home later than you were supposed to be, and all kinds of other little tests and trials to see if you're going to stick it out, or jump ship at the first sign of trouble. Customers will make you sit in the parking lot for hours, and you won't know what to do. You'll have a delivery in downtown Chicago at 9:00 am in January and the traffic and weather is going to jump up and bite you. Then after weeks on the road you're going to finally get home, only to find out that life has gone on just fine without you, and although everyone is glad to see you, you kind of get set aside because you're no longer in the flow of people's everyday lives, and it's gonna hurt a little bit.
Yap, life on the road can be incredibly hard sometimes. In fact, it can be hard a lot of times. There's so much to learn when you're new, and so much to deal with no matter how long you've been driving. But if you have the personality for it and you see it through the hard times, it can be one of the most rewarding careers you'll find anywhere. The adventure, the scenery, the amazing feeling of accomplishment when you make a tough run safely, the interesting people you'll meet, the freedom of the road, the traveling lifestyle - it's always an adventure, always something new, and always challenging - and that will never change no matter how long you've been driving.
But that first year is the toughest, and there's a lot to endure. You have to give yourself time to learn the ropes and adjust to the lifestyle and the demands of the road. You have to remain steadfast in your resolve to get your career off on the right foot by staying with your first company for one full year, and doing it safely no matter what. You can always change companies once you get a year of safe over the road experience under your belt - that's no problem. But that first year, keep your cool, take the pain, push through the hard times, and learn and learn and learn.
Don't make any judgments about how you think things should be and how you think you should be treated that first year. You don't know anything yet. You don't know what makes a good company a good company. You don't know what being a good driver really means. You don't understand how the trucking industry works. How do companies get freight? How to they determine which drivers get which loads? What is the DOT enforcement like and how does it vary from state to state and season to season? How do you handle a rig going down a mountain in a snowstorm in January? How do you get in and out of a big city safely, and make that delivery and pickup on time in spite of terrible traffic and road conditions on only 3 hours of sleep? The truth is, you don't know yet. So don't pretend you do. Just stay safe no matter what, stick it out, and after a year goes by you'll know way, way more about the industry. But in the beginning, you don't know anything - it just seems like you do. Earn your stripes and learn the ropes, then you'll know where you wanna go from there.
A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:
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.
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.
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