The Natural Progression Of A Truck Driver's Career

by Old School

Recently in our forum we had a gentleman make this comment...

“I have been a company driver for just over 2 years now for a large company. I am ready to make the move to Owner/Operator. ”

It kind of surprised me the way he stated it. He made it appear as though becoming an owner operator was the natural progression of a truck driver's career. First you start out as a lowly company driver, then once you've paid your dues you can move on up to owner operator jobs where the big money is. I fear this type of thinking is far too common among new drivers who are just getting started in this career. I wanted to take the time to lay out for you what I consider to be the natural progression of a truck driver's career and show you how you can make some really good money at this career without taking on all of the unnecessary risks of truck ownership.

The Demand For Truck Drivers

We hear all the time about the great demand for truck drivers in this industry, and yet with any brief perusal of the voluminous online information concerning this career you will find an incredible amount of disdain for trucking companies and the way they treat their drivers.

So, what gives here? How is it that an industry that is in such need of drivers could be so guilty of such malfeasance? News Flash...

about 95% of what you read online about trucking is alarmingly and completely misleading, and therefore a total waste of time and effort.

Consider this intriguing little bit of data: Roughly Five out of One Hundred new entry level drivers ever make it past their first one year anniversary date as a rookie solo driver. So, what happens to those drivers who failed? From what I can gather most of them start trying to make a name for themselves in trucking forums or on YouTube as prophetic voices crying out against their perceived abuses in the trucking industry. So, let's get this straight, we have a ton of self proclaimed experts, who have had zero success in our industry, trying to tell the rest of us how it is so full of abuses that they often times characterize it as “Slavery.”

So Is There Really This Great Demand For Truck Drivers?

Yes there certainly is, but that demand is for the kind of drivers who understand how this business works, and therefore are the kind of drivers who manage to get things done in a way that is both profitable for themselves and their employers. We often refer to them as Top Tier Drivers. If there is a demand for these types of drivers, then it is important that we understand what it takes to be this type of driver. I hope I can inspire you to strive toward the end goal of being a Top Tier Driver with a few brief explanations of how your driving career can progress toward that goal.

The Steep Learning Curve

First off, any new driver needs to realize that there is a steep learning curve to this business. You don't just get out of Truck Driving School and automatically become someone who is worth a lot of money to a trucking company. If there is a “steep learning curve,” then that means that we are going to be required to start catching on quickly or else we will become as disillusioned and frustrated with our new career as our new employer is quickly becoming with us.

How many times have you seen people posting online about how they just aren't making any money in their new trucking career? Or maybe you've noticed them complaining about not getting enough miles? These two problems are first cousins to each other and often cause rookie drivers to abort their careers prematurely. There are some little known secrets among the Top Tier Drivers that help them keep things moving along rather rapidly for the most part.

Always Arrive Early To Appointments

Lesson One of how to make some progress in your career is to learn how to move your appointments forward, all while making sure you are accomplishing what you say you are going to.

As important as it is to be on time with your deliveries, I think it is far more important to establish yourself as always being early. Any of the Top Tier Drivers I have ever visited with always seem to think it is critical to make it a point to exceed their dispatcher's expectations of them. Recently after managing to get one of my loads delivered a full day earlier than what my dispatch instructions had indicated, I sent in my MT (empty) call and I got this message on the Qualcomm from my dispatcher...

“Are you serious? You are already MT! I don't know how you did that, but I never expect anything less from you.”

I do a lot of communicating with my customers. I work the phone and I get appointments changed so that I can make more happen out here. I don't like sitting around anymore than the next guy, but I am willing to take some chances and try to make something happen out here in my favor. This is something that takes some finesse, and you have to be careful here that you always manage to do what it is that you are committing to. If you get a customer to go to all the trouble of changing their appointment with you then you absolutely don't want to call them back the next morning and tell them, “Well, I guess I made a mistake, I am not going to be able to get there early after all.”

Communicate Well With Dispatch

Lesson Two of how to make some progress in your driving career is to communicate effectively with your dispatcher .

Dispatch is critical to your success. My dispatcher always gets an update from me whenever I have changed an appointment time or delivery schedule. I don't go into any of the details with him, I just merely let him know, “I will be MT on Wednesday morning, please let the planners know.” In fact I am updating my dispatcher all the time. Usually at the start of my drive shift, and or at the end of it I will send him just a brief message letting him know where I am at, and that I am running right on schedule. This eliminates unnecessary wait times.

This works because I have established a level of trust with the suits in the office that says, “Hey, that message is from Old School, he always does what he says. Let's make this a priority, because we know he will be MT when he told us, and not only that but he will have managed his clock so that he has hours to run at that point.” Establishing that level of trust is critical to your success out here, and that all comes from a good solid track record coupled with effective communication.

People who sell advertising often use an acronym that looks like this “TOMA” - that means Top Of Mind Awareness. If you can keep your business on the top of the mind of your customers they will do more business with you. The same philosophy applies to truck drivers. I do everything in my power to keep myself at the top of my dispatcher's mind. That way he is always working things in a way that works for my benefit. Here's a little secret... your dispatcher makes more money when he manages to get more miles out of his drivers. Do I need to explain that to you? His top drivers get his utmost attention, because they are the ones who are buttering his bread.

Working Safely And Efficiently

Lesson Three of how to make some progress in your driving career is that you have to do all of this in a safe and efficient manner.

Once you get the hang of moving things forward, and getting more done than the average driver, you absolutely have got to keep from rushing yourself so that you are not being safe. I have never made more mistakes in a big rig than when I was trying to rush things along too quickly. I like to have regular routine steps that I take for things like coupling to a trailer, or the way that I go about my pre-trip inspections. There is nothing like good old fashioned repetition to keep yourself from missing a critical step in the process.

The same goes for driving that rig. Paying attention to good safe practices that have been proven effective over time will keep you from overstepping the boundaries that keep you in good standing with your employer. Here is what I consider to be the most critical step in the safe operation of a big rig. Make sure you keep an effective following distance.

In fact, I consider keeping a good following distance to be one of the most critical factors for your safety as a driver. This is one of those practices that I often see people neglecting when out on the Interstates. It is easy to get yourself into such a rush that you think others are impeding your progress, and you start trying to make something happen on the road by being pushy with other drivers – this is a huge mistake. Drivers who begin to get too comfortable with their driving are the ones who usually start getting lax in this area. It is often times the most experienced drivers who will neglect using an effective following distance.

Understand The Logbook Rules

Being efficient is just as important as being safe, and one of the most effective ways of being efficient at this career is to understand the log book rules and how to use them to your advantage. I have learned to keep myself moving by making sure that I have got that team in the office on my side so that they are keeping me pre-planned with my next load long before I'm finished with my current one. By managing my time in accordance with the regulations so that I am not wasting unnecessary time trying to gain some much needed driving hours, I can keep myself moving right along.

I am willing to drive all night, or all day to meet my obligations, and I am willing to run in any part of this great country. I can't even begin to tell you how many times my dispatcher has thanked me for my willingness to do whatever it takes to get things done out here. He tells me all the time of drivers who are on his board who lay out their own expectations of him. Things like this, “Sir I'll do whatever you need as long as it is South of the Mason-Dixon line.” Or, “I will bust my tail for you sir, but don't expect me to drive at night – I don't like night driving.” If you take an approach like that with your dispatcher you are automatically setting yourself against his objectives.

Learn To Thrive As A Company Driver

In summary, I don't think the natural progression of a driver's career has anything to do with moving from a company driver to an Owner/Operator. I think it has to do with learning how to not only survive as a company driver, but rather how to thrive as a company driver. You can't be an average driver and expect to make a lot of progress in this career. It is the guys and gals who stand out as creative and effective movers and shakers in this business who get to do the lion's share of the work out here. There is a large demand for these types of drivers, and they are making some serious money for a blue collar type job. They work hard, and they work some long hours, but they generally love what they do, and it shows in their results.

What happens is that often times the average drivers become disgruntled with their careers and then think they can remedy the problems they are experiencing by merely switching over to becoming an Owner/Operator. If there ever was a recipe for disaster that is it. There is no way that an Owner/Operator is going to be successful at this if he brings an average driver mentality to the table. The natural progression of a driver's career should be to learn to be as proficient and profitable at this as he/she can be. That is the kind of progress that pays off in this arena.

Pre-trip Inspection:

A pre-trip inspection is a thorough inspection of the truck completed before driving for the first time each day.

Federal and state laws require that drivers inspect their vehicles. Federal and state inspectors also may inspect your vehicles. If they judge a vehicle to be unsafe, they will put it “out of service” until it is repaired.


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.


A written or electronic record of a driver's duty status which must be maintained at all times. The driver records the amount of time spent driving, on-duty not driving, in the sleeper berth, or off duty. The enforcement of the Hours Of Service Rules (HOS) are based upon the entries put in a driver's logbook.

Owner Operator:

An owner-operator is a driver who either owns or leases the truck they are driving. A self-employed driver.


Omnitracs (a.k.a. Qualcomm) is a satellite-based messaging system with built-in GPS capabilities built by Qualcomm. It has a small computer screen and keyboard and is tied into the truck’s computer. It allows trucking companies to track where the driver is at, monitor the truck, and send and receive messages with the driver – similar to email.


Commercial trade, business, movement of goods or money, or transportation from one state to another, regulated by the Federal Department Of Transportation (DOT).


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.


Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.


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