How to Become a Truck Driver – A Complete Guide
If your planning to become a truck driver in the United States, then our guide will provide you with a STEP-BY-STEP process on what you need to know. We explore educational and licensing requirements, endorsements, and potential career paths that you can transition into as you gain more experience.
According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics the –
“Employment of truck drivers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.”
These statistics show that the job prospects for truck drivers are HIGHLY in DEMAND and definitely a worthwhile career choice, especially for those who enjoy being on the road. To help you on your journey, we encourage you to read through our guide and get started with the prerequisites.
Table of Contents
What Does A Truck Driver Do?
Overview Of The Steps To Become A Truck Driver (CHART)
Truck Driver Education Requirements And Prerequisites
Explanation of Commercial Drivers License (CDL) Endorsements
Understanding The STATE Commercial Drivers License Knowledge And Skills Test
Renewing Your Commercial Drivers License
Transferring Your Out of State Commercial Drivers License
Commercial Drivers License DMV Offices By State
Truck Driver Career Paths
Truck Driver Salary
Truck Driver Industry Statistics
Truck Driver Earning Potential by State
Truck Driver Highest Paying US Cities
Choosing The BEST Truck Driving School For You
Search Truck Driver Jobs In Your Area
As a truck driver, you will be responsible for transporting goods/cargo across the United States. The goods you will be responsible for will depend on the company you are working for at the time. For example, as a truck driver for Walmart, you will be transporting a variety of items like frozen foods, household goods, clothing, fruits, and vegetables, etc. The opportunities are endless primarily because you can be employed to drive both regionally and/or nationally.
Some typical/common responsibilities for this position include:
Loading goods and unloading the truck at drop off location
Provide customer service to clients and answering their questions about the load being delivered
Inspecting and maintaining the truck to ensure safe operating conditions
Completing necessary paperwork relevant to each delivery
Driving safely and in accordance with traffic laws, especially as they pertain to heavy vehicles
Mentor other company truck drivers on keeping a log of hours, recording traffic violations, and other similar activities
Training junior truck drivers on company procedures and freight forms
The educational requirements and prerequisites for obtaining your Commercial Drivers License (CDL) will depend on your CURRENT driver status – a NON-CDL license holder vs. EXISTING CDL license holder.
Let’s discuss both categories below and their requirements –
If you are NOT previously licensed in another STATE and DON’T hold a VALID Commercial Drivers License (CDL), then you MUST meet the following requirements. We encourage you to VISIT your STATE Department of Motor Vehicle.
Below are the standard requirements common amongst all STATE’s –
1) Must be at least 18 years of age to drive intrastate and 21 years of age to drive interstate. You must be at least 21 years of age to qualify for the hazardous materials endorsement.
2) You MUST hold a VALID STATE drivers license
3) Submit and PASS the Medical Examination
4) Submit and PASS the Criminal Background Check
5) When APPLYING for the first time, you will be required to obtain and hold a Commercial Learners Permit (CLP) for at least 14 – 21 days, depending on your STATE.
PLEASE NOTE: While a high school diploma is not required to get your CDL, some trucking companies require that you have a diploma or GED to work there.
EXISTING CDL LICENSE
If you are an EXISTING Commercial Drivers License Holder and are upgrading your license (Class C to Class B or Class A, or Class B to Class A) or adding a passenger, school bus, or tank endorsement, you will need to SIT and PASS the applicable Knowledge/Skills Test for the license you are upgrading to. At that time, you will receive a Commercial Learners Permit (CLP) for your new license so you can complete the Skills Testing portion. Please VISIT your STATE’s Department of Motor Vehicle for more information.
As a truck driver, you can upgrade your Commercial Drivers License (CDL) by adding specialized endorsements levels. Each endorsement does bring higher employment opportunities with it. However, each STATE does require you to SIT and PASS additional Knowledge and Skills tests for that endorsement when upgrading your CURRENT CDL license. With that said, here are the MOST popular endorsements available to NEW and EXISTING CDL holders.
Double and Triple Trailers (T)
An endorsement that qualifies you to pull double or triple trailers.
Tank Vehicle (N).
Drivers of any commercial motor vehicle that is designed to transport any liquid or gaseous materials
Drivers who wish to drive a vehicle having a design capacity to carry 16 or more people, including the driver, must add a passenger endorsement to their CDL/CLP.
Hazardous Materials (H).
Any driver, regardless of the vehicle Class/Group (A, B, or C) who wishes to haul any material that has been designated as hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and is required to be placarded under subpart F of 49 CFR part 172, or any quantity of a material listed as a select agent or toxin 42 CFR Part 73 must add a hazardous materials endorsement to their CDL.
Combination Hazardous Materials and Tank Vehicle (X).
Drivers of tank vehicles who haul hazardous materials or waste in amounts requiring placards must add an X endorsement to their CDL, showing that they have passed the special knowledge examinations for both tank vehicles and hazardous materials.
School Buses (S).
Drivers who wish to drive a school bus MUST add a school bus endorsement to their CDL/CLP.
The Commercial Drivers License (CDL) Knowledge and Skills test are standard amongst every STATE. The CDL examination is divided into two sections – a General Knowledge component and a Skills/Driving component.
Let’s explore the breakdown of each section and what to expect.
General Knowledge (50 Questions)
Each applicant will need to take one (1) or more Knowledge Tests. The EXACT amount will depend on what class of license and what endorsements they would like to have on their CDL license. For example, the General Knowledge test component MUST be taken by all applicants. However, if you are applying for the Hazardous Materials (H), then you are required to PASS the Hazardous Materials Knowledge Test portion too.
Each applicant will have to PASS the Skills Test after PASSING the General Knowledge Test. The Commercial Drivers License (CDL) Skills Test is divided into three (3) segments: Vehicle Inspection, Basic Vehicle Control, and Onroad Driving.
You MUST PASS all three (3) segments to obtain your CDL license.
Each state has its Commercial Drivers License (CDL) renewal process and applicable fees. We encourage you to visit your local STATE Department of Motor Vehicle to find out more. Click here to find a list of Department of Motor Vehicle by State.
Most STATE’s will reciprocate (transfer) an OUT-OF-STATE or a Canadian commercial driver license of the same Class and Endorsement. However, if you are upgrading your license (Class C to Class B or Class A, or Class B to Class A) or adding a passenger, school bus, or tank endorsement, you MAY be required to SIT and PASS the applicable Knowledge/Skills Test for the license you are upgrading to.
VISIT your STATE Department of Motor Vehicle for more information.
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As a truck driver, you will have several options available to you as you GAIN more experience through the years. Your options will obviously depend on your CURRENT job and the company you are working for as some companies are larger and allow for greater internal mobility. With that said, a truck driver career path can be divided into several categories – training, mentoring, engineering, office, dispatch, and more.
As you become a more experienced truck driver throughout the years, you’ll know first-hand what it takes to succeed on the road. If you are working for some of the more established trucking companies for one (1) or more years, you WILL have several opportunities to share your experience with new drivers and in different areas. Here are just some CAREER OPTIONS available to you –
Training Engineer: Sit and work side-by-side with a driver during his/her final stage of training, providing a positive first exposure to life on the road. Enjoy additional daily pay and bonus opportunities. For example, Schneider Trucking provides Training Engineers a chance to earn up to $10,000 more than an average solo driver.
Truck Dispatcher: As a trucking dispatcher, you will be responsible for coordinating and managing the schedules of truck drivers. You WILL ensure that the products and goods are picked up and delivered on schedule. As a trucking dispatcher, you will receive calls for truck services and will need to contact their fleet of truck drivers to arrange pickups and deliveries.
Transportation Specialist: Truck drivers who have been working for a company for several years will have the opportunity to SHIFT into more significant roles. Reputable trucking companies tend to invest and reward those individuals who have shown loyalty and dedication throughout the years to their company. This loyalty often leads to FREE training and internal growth very quickly. A great example would be the opportunity to transition from a truck driver into a Transportation Specialist. As a Transportation Specialist, you will be responsible for coordinating the movement of goods and people, ensuring safety, overseeing drivers, finding ways to improve transportation processes, maintaining records, and supporting business objectives. The average annual pay for a Transportation Specialist is approx. $70,932.
Driver Managers: With an average annual salary of $46,829, as a Truck Driver Manager, you will have an essential role in recruiting, training and assessing truck drivers and their qualifications as per driving laws. You will also be responsible for coordinating with truck drivers, staff, and management to hold meetings and resolve issues.
The average annual Truck Driver salary is $61,125, with the average Truck Driver hourly pay being $20.32.
Figures are reflective as of June 2020 (Indeed.com)
Figures are reflective as of May 2019 (bls.gov)
Figures are reflective as of May 2019 (bls.gov)
Figures are reflective as of May 2019 (bls.gov)
Figures are reflective as of May 2019 (bls.gov)
To improve your chances of PASSING the “Skills Testing” portion of the STATE Commercial Drivers License exam, you MAY choose to enroll in a trucking school/program in your STATE. Even though graduating from a trucking program is NOT a prerequisite to becoming a truck driver, you can however, benefit from the training provided. If you are considering a truck driver CDL program in your STATE, we have listed the MOST common areas that you need to give some consideration to –
1) How long does it take to complete the trucking program?
Some programs can be lengthy, spanning six (6) months to one (1) year. If you are looking to jumpstart your career right away and want to start applying for a job, then you MAY want to start studying on your own. Since attending a trucking program is NOT a prerequisite to SIT for the Commercial Drivers License exam, you CAN get through your STATE CDL Handbook quickly on your own time and write the CDL exam immediately after. With that said, some programs MAY offer an accelerated trucking program and have you prepared in less than six (6) months. We recommend taking into consideration your commitments and flexibility before applying to any program. We also recommend you think about how soon you’ll be ready to apply for work, for example, do you need to complete high school, are you over 18, able to work in the United States, etc. If your NOT eligible to apply for work for any reason, then consider enrolling in a trucking program instead for one (1) year to gain experience behind the wheel.
2) What is the COST of the trucking program? Can you afford it?
The professional training environment is fantastic when you attend a trucking school, but the COST can be pretty steep. However, the training and resources you gain from a quality trucking program can be priceless. For example, many trucking programs offer job placement assistance, one-on-one tutoring, and mentally prepare you for the road and what to expect. Next, if you are an EXISTING truck driver with a VALID Commercial Drivers License (CDL), your company MAY cover the costs through their “paid CDL training” initiative. This initiative covers the cost if you are upgrading your credentials by adding endorsements.
Before applying to a program, it’s essential to think about what’s covered in the cost and what value the trucking program will provide in the long-run.
3) What kind of training does the trucking school provide?
Before applying, it’s essential to consider the kind of training the trucking school provides. After you become fully licensed as a truck driver, many employment opportunities will present themselves, and the qualifications MAY differ. At this point, having experience driving different trucks will be valuable. For example, the program you are enrolling in does it only provide Class A training? Or, can you train for other Classes like “B” or even combine them both (Class A + B)? How about training for endorsements? (passenger, Hazmat, Tank, etc.) With that said, when investing in a trucking program, ensure that it provides you with the quality of training you are confident will be an asset later on when applying for jobs.
4) Are you going to be trained on manual or automatic trucks?
It is essential that you opt for a truck driving school that offers both manual and automatic transmissions training. This is because, although there has been a shift towards automatic transmissions, there are many manual transmission trucks still in operation today. By having a diverse driving range, this will put you in good stead with employers and will allow you to broaden your job search.
5) How many students per trainer? What’s the ratio?
When it comes to training, you want the best access to knowledge, practical experience, and guidance. Naturally, this is served best when you have closer accessibility to your trainer. Hence it is essential when choosing a training school, to opt for one where the trainer to student ratio is favorable (i.e. lower). Ideally, a training school should have at least a trainer for every four (4) students. This ratio will give you greater access and the undivided attention of the trainer. Subsequently, this should lead to a more enhanced learning experience.
Alternatively, where there are too many students, this may hinder the learning experience as the trainer may not be able to provide his or her expertise on a more ‘one-on-one’ basis. Therefore, you will not be able to get the best out of your trainer and the training process overall.
General Knowledge (With Time Limit) – Part 1
General Knowledge (With Time Limit) – Part 2
CDL Practice Tests
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