Common Mistakes Rookie Truck Drivers Should Avoid

by Rainy

I am 45 years old, and over-the-road trucking is the best job I have ever had. That being said, trucking takes commitment, hard work, determination, and a positive outlook to succeed. Unfortunately, many new drivers sabotage themselves before their career ever takes off. Let's cover some common mistakes that new truck drivers make.

Prepare For The Challenge Ahead

The first thing you must understand is that trucking will be one of the most challenging endeavors of your lifetime. You will maneuver through an emotional obstacle course before you reach your goals. CDL Training will push you to your limits, and at times you may even regret your decision to take a shot at this career. Remember, pain is only temporary. The challenge of taking on a few months of CDL training and a year of rookie obstacles is nothing in the grand scheme of things. Keep a great attitude and persevere. 

I survived a decade and a half of postal service hell, so you can survive a year of making mistakes and refining your skills in trucking. Eventually, you will learn to handle that 70 foot long, 80,000 pound beast of a truck. You'll also master the art of time management, familiarize yourself with the roadways, and find parking even in the most congested areas.

At that point, the stress of learning subsides. The only stress you now have is the stress of everyday life in the trucking world. The backing becomes less difficult. You communicate well with dispatch and you understand what they expect of you. You have experience with mechanical failures and know how to identify and resolve those issues. You've gained a lot of experience and the confidence that comes with it.

Life is grand!

Have The Right Expectations

To help you survive your rookie year in trucking you must first clear your mind of everything you think trucking is. Whatever your romanticized version of it is, forget it. It is as much a lie as the dream I had last night about Gerard Butler and his loincloth from the movie 300.

There will be days when sweat pours from your body and even after two showers you still feel sticky. There will be nights when the wind violently rocks your truck during thunderstorms or blizzards and you realize you have to go use the restroom. There will be days you want to smack your annoying trainer, take a hammer to the truck, and rip the head off the ignorant driver who doesn't want to give you room to back into a dock.

Things out here can change in an instant so you need to be flexible.  A mechanical problem or a traffic backup may delay you. Perhaps you arrived at the shipper to find they have canceled the load. You might haul a load a thousand miles only to find out that another receiver urgently needs the product, so you get rerouted. Trucking is a very dynamic environment. Adapting to ever-changing circumstances is the reality out there. 

You need to be a flexible problem solver to handle these types of situations. No one is doing these things on purpose. It's no one's fault. You are not a victim of someone's incompetence. That's just trucking, so deal with it. If this environment makes you miserable, then trucking is not for you. So be it. But give it a chance for a full year before you quit.

See also: Why Stick With Your First Company For One Full Year?

These scenarios may annoy a new driver but become insignificant to an experienced driver.

A driver had a three-stop load and knew she didn't have enough hours available to make the appointments in one day. She gave it her best but failed. An experienced driver would have sent a message to dispatch saying, "Delayed by receiver #2. ETA is now 1800." Then we'd park the truck, go to bed, and let dispatch handle it. They can either send another driver to grab the load from us or change the appointment.

Worrying about things you can't control is hurting no one but yourself. I once messaged my dispatcher , "Sorry, my ‘turbo booster' is in the shop. No way can I deliver to two places in the same hour."  Both the rookie and the experienced drivers care, but the experienced drivers understand how to handle the situation without stressing themselves out.

Many drivers, including myself sometimes, have unrealistic expectations of themselves. I thought I would pass the CDL exam on the first try to get my CDL license right away. I didn't, and it crushed me.

See: Failed The CDL Exam? Don't Sweat It!

One of my trainees felt the same way, and he struggled for a week during testing. It chiseled away at his confidence, resulting in stupid mistakes.

Be Confident, But Humble

It is great to have confidence, but arrogance can cause you a lot of grief. Overconfident drivers seem to struggle the most and have more accidents. Those same arrogant personalities are the ones who think they deserve a higher starting pay because they were the "top of the class in CDL school". That means nothing. Or "I didn't have an accident in training, so I should make 2 CPM more". So what? You drove for 10,000 to 15,000 miles and you think that means something? Come back in another 100,000 miles and we'll see if you are still accident-free. All you are worth is the starting salary the company offered. They will most likely be paying for some damage you will cause, so expecting a higher pay is ridiculous.

Another personality type that can struggle is perfectionists. They often beat themselves up for making stupid rookie mistakes that every driver makes. 95% of rookie drivers will lock themselves out of their trucks, have a minor accident, get lost, arrive late for appointments, and nearly drop a trailer on the ground their first year. So you are in some great company when you mess up. Accept it and learn from it.

One of my students made a very tiny rookie mistake, and instead of continuing, she gave up and quit. I tried to assure her she was doing great, but no matter what I said, she cried and said she needed to be better or she needed to give up.

Sometimes incoming drivers who have not even attended CDL school yet will say they want local driving during the day, home daily, weekends off, high pay with good benefits, no-touch freight with mostly drop and hook , new equipment, and an automatic transmission. Expecting to get all of those things fresh out of CDL school is unrealistic. Those jobs are desirable and drivers with years of experience will get them first. To expect to get them right away is setting yourself up for disappointment.

Even if you get a local job, the skills you need to complete the tasks in a safe and timely manner will take a long time to build. Attempting a local job as a new driver will increase your stress and potentially cause an accident. Every accident you have will stay on your record, so finding another job will not be a simple matter. I think a rookie who wants a local job right away is unaware of the risk level or the skills needed.

Don't Be A Know-It-All

The new driver who terrifies me most is the one who tries to tell us the way things are or how things will be. This driver often downplays their past driving infractions, drug history, or work ethic, which proves they have no respect for the road or for others at all. They assume they know everything, and it belittles the knowledge and experience real drivers have gained over the years.

Trucking will leave you exhausted in the beginning so try to stay focused. Don't worry about spending money on hobbies or online college. You won't have time. We're not trying to rain on your parade. We are giving you the truth about transitioning to a new lifestyle with a 24-hour work schedule and constant change.

I love to write, and although I've written five published books, I can't seem to find the time to delve deeply into writing novels again. I now satisfy my writing desire by contributing here to Trucking Truth. I needed to adjust and adapt. If you want a career in trucking you will need to compromise and adapt to your new lifestyle.

When you find that reality differs from your expectations, take a moment to consider the difference between wants and needs. Two of my past students got on my truck "needing" to make $800 per week. This is doable. After they completed their training and upgraded to solo, both of them were grossing $1300 - $1500 per week.

Soon after they were complaining to me that freight had slowed and their earnings were disappointing. My response was, "Do you want $1500 per week, or do you need it? You told me you only needed $800. Some weeks you nearly double that, so be happy things are going so well. You've proven you can handle those miles, and they'll return when things pick up again."

The smaller paychecks were satisfying until they saw how much potential they had. Now, both became frustrated despite beating their previous expectations. They were still making more than they originally said they needed, but they were no longer satisfied with that.

Don't Be Your Own Worst Enemy

Follow some basic principles for rookie drivers:

  • Do not expect more from yourself than is humanly possible
  • Be happy with your results if you're performing to the best of your abilities
  • Don't overestimate your worth
  • Be willing to make compromises
  • Maintain balance
  • Consider the difference between wants and needs
  • Be realistic about what you can accomplish
  • Expect to make mistakes and don't beat yourself up over it
  • Keep an open mind
  • Listen to those who have had success in this industry
  • Make every experience a learning opportunity

Take every opportunity to learn. If your truck needs to go into the shop, ask the mechanic a ton of questions. If possible, walk around the truck with him asking for more information. Chat with your dispatcher and watch him do his job for a bit. Listen to the ridiculous situations drivers put themselves in and make a mental note not to be "that driver". If you are a new driver, relish in the learning. If you are an experienced driver, continue to learn and pass that knowledge on to others.

Good luck and stay safe.

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.

Shipper:

The customer who is shipping the freight. This is where the driver will pick up a load and then deliver it to the receiver or consignee.

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.

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.

CPM:

Cents Per Mile

Drivers are often paid by the mile and it's given in cents per mile, or cpm.

Drop And Hook:

Drop and hook means the driver will drop one trailer and hook to another one.

In order to speed up the pickup and delivery process a driver may be instructed to drop their empty trailer and hook to one that is already loaded, or drop their loaded trailer and hook to one that is already empty. That way the driver will not have to wait for a trailer to be loaded or unloaded.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OOS:

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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