Four Traps That New Truck Drivers Fall Into

by Old School

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I remember an old John Wayne line where he says, “I don't like quitters!” I feel that way too. Unfortunately there are a lot of quitters in trucking. While I don't like quitters in general, I feel a little differently toward them when it comes to getting a trucking career off the ground. I feel a certain empathy for them. What I don't like is the way so many of them are fooled into believing bad advice or false ideas about this career, and then get started under a multitude of false expectations. I'm convinced that most of those who abort their trucking careers so early in the game could have been successful. Most of the time, the false ideas they were laboring under are what caused them to give up so quickly.

Recently in our forum we had a brand new member lamenting his training experience at a Company Sponsored Training Program. He told us about how he had been a police officer for forty years and had a lot of experience in training other officers, and therefore felt he knew what to expect when he was being trained to drive a truck. He was sorely disappointed, and let us know this:

“Needless to say, I did not continue with this particular company. There has to be a company that takes their training to heart.”

This is such a common scenario, yet he seemed to think the training experience he had was an aberration, and should be avoided like it were some sort of plague! He didn't just decide to quit, he went running right into some trucking forums looking for some validation of his concerns.

It is just this type of person that I wish we could spend just a few weeks mentoring them long before they ever make their first foray into this challenging and rewarding career. There are literally thousands of these guys and gals that fall into this same trap every year. Seldom do any of them ever really make it into what could have been a successful trucking career. I want to lay out for you some of the many stumbling blocks that you will come across as you try to get a new trucking career started.

The Research Trap

For some reason people fear they are going to be trapped in a really bad situation if they don't get off on the right start with just the right company. They will spend countless hours doing all kinds of research, even laying out extensive spread sheets just so they can narrow it down to that one hidden needle in the haystack that is going to be the perfect place for them to start their career. It is a relentless pursuit that is usually based on fears that have been aroused from the useless reports they have read online from the folks who were quitters before them.

What can you learn from a quitter? Well, for one you can usually find seemingly perfect good reasons to quit. Now just how much good is that going to do you? Here's the big problem with all this research that people do. There is a negligible difference in the trucking companies that hire inexperienced drivers. The only differences that should interest a new driver are:

  • The types of freight they haul.
  • The pay scale (and that only to a small extent, in my opinion).
  • Their home time policies.
  • Maybe their rider and pet policy (if those are important to you).

Everything else is going to be so similar for a newbie that it can just be ignored. New drivers seem oblivious to the fact that all of these companies are doing the same thing with the same trucks, under the same conditions and regulations. They are traversing the same interstates, using the same fuels, and serving the same customers. It is so much the same that researching the differences is a futile and frustrating exercise. Don't waste your time on all that research. You are just creating unnecessary anxiety for yourself. That anxiety built up during the research phase of your new journey is generally the foundation that causes all the other problems that cause people to quit so easily.

The Training Trap

People usually have very false expectations of how training is going to be done as they start this new career. There are no nationally recognized standards for training in this career. Everyone has a similar program, and they have been developed basically under a Darwin like method of evolution: “This is what has worked for us, so this is the way we do it.”

One of the biggest things that causes people to stumble is they think they're going to be dealt with on a one on one basis and their training will actually make them proficient at this. In most other careers, proficiency is the goal of training, but not in trucking. It actually will take you a good solid year of driving that rig and learning the little nuances of the career before you can ever feel as though you are proficient at this. In trucking the training is actually done in several layers, or maybe we can call them progressive stages of your career.

  • 1. Book work, so you can pass the tests to obtain your permit.
  • 2. Driving portion, so you can pass the driving test and get your CDL.
  • 3. After you land a job you go out with a trainer. Why? Because you still don't have a clue yet.
  • 4. Then you get your own solo truck, and trust me, that first week or two you will feel like an idiot.
  • 5. Every month or so your dispatcher will be monitoring you looking for progress.
  • 6. You may be evaluated quarterly just to see if you are coming along satisfactorily.
  • 7. After a year they will start to trust you.
  • 8. For the next few years it will be up to you to begin to teach yourself how to be successful at this.

This is a very important:

Truck driving is a career which requires fierce independence, where self motivated problem solvers generally prove to be the best drivers.

Each stage of the training is progressively designed for those types to rise to the challenge, and consequently the others usually fall by the wayside. The training is designed not to produce proficiency, but to cut out those who don't seem to have the proper characteristics that make for success at this. Proficiency comes with exposure to all the little nuances that make for success as a driver. And the ones who get the exposure are the ones who have that special ability to stay the course, working their way through all the unrealistic expectations they had.

The Solo Trap

Oh man, what a thrill it is to get those keys to your first truck. You are on top of the world now, and you can't wait to get out there and start making all that money. You made it this far, and now it's all about to pay off big time! You get that first load and what happens?

  • 1. You get lost on the way to your consignee.
  • 2. You finally get there, but you're late.
  • 3. You then accidentally turn into the wrong gate.
  • 4. Now you find yourself in the employee's parking area.
  • 5. You have to back the truck out of this seemingly impossible situation.
  • 6. You finally get yourself maneuvered over into the receiving area.
  • 7. You discover that they quit receiving thirty minutes ago.

Wait just a minute, this is not what you were expecting! Don't ask me how I know this will happen to you! It may even be worse than that, but you are going to get yourself into some really crazy situations as a rookie driver. We've all done this, and we all know how it is going to play out. This is when it dawns on you that you are responsible for learning how to do this stuff, basically on your own. There is only so much they can do for you in training.

There are ten thousand different scenarios that you will get yourself into out here, and there is no way this can all be covered in training. The training is designed to give those who easily give up the chance to bail out while they still have their sanity. Those who make the choice to endure and avoiding falling into the trap that says “this is no way to teach someone to drive a truck,” are the ones who eventually get exposed to all the little things that contribute to their success as a new driver.

The Starter Company Trap

Every new driver seems to set his own benchmark as to how long he will stay with his “Starter Company.” Some determine that they will stay for one year, some six months, and some are even so bold as to move on after only three months experience. The very fact that we consider some of these companies as “Starter Companies,” and therefore less desirable, is a great fallacy in itself.

See: Episode 9: Are Major Carriers Nothing More Than Starter Companies?

Sure there are some companies that hire inexperienced drivers, and others that don't, but that doesn't make those hiring newbies any less desirable than the others. It could be argued that they are better equipped to help a person get themselves established in this career, which actually should make every rookie think of them as really great companies to work for. There is a trap that says you just need to get enough experience so that you can move on to a “real” trucking company that will treat you with “respect.”

This is totally bogus, and the trucking companies know that you are falling for this nonsense. That is why you will see on the backs of their trailers those recruiting messages declaring all the things that the whiners and complainers are moaning and groaning about.

Come join our team and get all the things you deserve:

  • More Miles
  • More Money
  • More Respect
  • More Home Time

I had a lot of trouble landing my first trucking job, and eventually ended up getting employed by a company that had terrible (really frightening if you want to know the truth) reviews online and in trucking forums. That is when I discovered the very truths I am trying to present to you here. I was as nervous as I could be. I was certain they would be taking advantage of me, and that was because of all the information I had read from all the quitters that had gone before me.

Again I ask, “What can you learn from quitters?”

You can learn all the wrong ways to go about achieving success. And that is what almost everybody does when they start out in trucking. There is a wealth of really bad information on the internet when it comes to the trucking career, and unfortunately most of it comes from the folks who failed at trucking.

See: You're Getting Career Advice From The Wrong People

To get your feet under you in this career, you have got to be tenaciously independent and willing to do whatever it takes to get yourself established. I committed myself to success no matter what the internet reviews were saying, and I discovered them to be nothing but bogus information from quitters and losers. This “Starter Company” did everything they could to help me succeed, but only because they recognized in me the tenacious spirit that contributes to success out here on the road.

I was saddened to see that new member in our forum quit so quickly over his own misconceptions about how the training ought to be going. He hadn't even gotten his foot in the door yet, and now he has joined the ranks of those looking for validation of their concerns from experienced drivers who know better. There are so many folks who drop out of this at the blink of an eye, and to be honest with you that is part of the design of the training process.

In trucking you are going to be facing new challenges every day you are out here. I still have to be quick on my feet and able to make quick decisions every day. Those decisions have a definite impact on my success for that particular day or week. Don't fall for the common traps that cause people to bail out of this career prematurely. Hang in there and be tenacious while going through that whole first year from training to employment and beyond. The rewards go to the ones who demonstrate they have what it takes to finish the race.

CDL:

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.

Consignee:

The customer the freight is being delivered to. Also referred to as "the receiver". The shipper is the customer that is shipping the goods, the consignee is the customer receiving the goods.

SAP:

Substance Abuse Professional

The Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) is a person who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol program regulation and makes recommendations concerning education, treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare.

Interstate:

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

Dispatcher:

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.

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.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
by Brett Aquila

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