A commercial driver’s license is required to operate most
Truck drivers are a constant presence on the Nation’s highways
and interstates. They deliver everything from automobiles
to canned food. Firms of all kinds rely on trucks to pick
up and deliver goods because no other form of transportation
can deliver goods door-to-door. Even if some goods travel
most of the way by ship, train, or airplane, almost everything
is carried by trucks at some point in its journey.
Before leaving the terminal or warehouse, truck drivers check
the fuel level and oil in their trucks. They also inspect
the trucks to make sure that the brakes, windshield wipers,
and lights are working and that a fire extinguisher, flares,
and other safety equipment are aboard and in working order.
Drivers make sure their cargo is secure and adjust the mirrors
so that both sides of the truck are visible from the driver’s
seat. Drivers report equipment that is inoperable, missing,
or loaded improperly to the dispatcher.
Once under way, drivers must be alert in order to prevent
accidents. Drivers can see farther down the road because large
trucks seat them higher off the ground than other vehicles.
This allows them to see the road ahead and select lanes that
are moving more smoothly as well as giving them warning of
any dangerous road conditions ahead of them.
The duration of runs vary according to the types of cargo
and the destinations. Local drivers may provide daily service
for a specific route or region, while other drivers make longer,
intercity and interstate deliveries. Interstate and intercity
cargo tends to vary from job to job more than local cargo.
A driver’s responsibilities and assignments change according
to the type of loads transported and their vehicle’s size.
New technologies are changing the way truck drivers work,
especially long-distance truck drivers. Satellites and the
Global Positioning System link many trucks with their company’s
headquarters. Troubleshooting information, directions, weather
reports, and other important communications can be instantly
relayed to the truck. Drivers can easily communicate with
the dispatcher to discuss delivery schedules and courses of
action in the event of mechanical problems. The satellite
link also allows the dispatcher to track the truck’s location,
fuel consumption, and engine performance. Some drivers also
work with computerized inventory tracking equipment. It is
important for the producer, warehouse, and customer to know
their product’s location at all times so they can maintain
a high quality of service.
Heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers operate trucks
or vans with a capacity of at least 26,000 pounds Gross Vehicle
Weight (GVW). They transport goods including cars, livestock,
and other materials in liquid, loose, or packaged form. Many
routes are from city to city and cover long distances. Some
companies use two drivers on very long runs—one drives while
the other sleeps in a berth behind the cab. These “sleeper”
runs can last for days, or even weeks. Trucks on sleeper runs
typically stop only for fuel, food, loading, and unloading.
Some heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers who have regular
runs transport freight to the same city on a regular basis.
Other drivers perform ad hoc runs because shippers request
varying service to different cities every day.
The U.S. Department of Transportation requires that drivers
keep a log of their activities, the condition of the truck,
and the circumstances of any accidents.
Long-distance heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers spend
most of their working time behind the wheel, but also may
have to load or unload their cargo. This is especially common
when drivers haul specialty cargo, because they may be the
only ones at the destination familiar with procedures or certified
to handle the materials. Auto-transport drivers, for example,
position cars on the trailers at the manufacturing plant and
remove them at the dealerships. When picking up or delivering
furniture, drivers of long-distance moving vans hire local
workers to help them load or unload.
Light or delivery services truck drivers operate vans
and trucks weighing less than 26,000 pounds GVW. They pick
up or deliver merchandise and packages within a specific area.
This may include short “turnarounds” to deliver a shipment
to a nearby city, pick up another loaded truck or van, and
drive it back to their home base the same day. These services
may require use of electronic delivery tracking systems to
track the whereabouts of the merchandise or packages. Light
or delivery services truck drivers usually load or unload
the merchandise at the customer’s place of business. They
may have helpers if there are many deliveries to make during
the day, or if the load requires heavy moving. Typically,
before the driver arrives for work, material handlers load
the trucks and arrange items for ease of delivery. Customers
must sign receipts for goods and pay drivers the balance due
on the merchandise if there is a cash-on-delivery arrangement.
At the end of the day drivers turn in receipts, payments,
records of deliveries made, and any reports on mechanical
problems with their trucks.
Some local truck drivers have sales and customer service
responsibilities. The primary responsibility of driver/sales
workers, or route drivers, is to deliver and sell
their firm’s products over established routes or within an
established territory. They sell goods such as food products,
including restaurant takeout items, or pick up and deliver
items such as laundry. Their response to customer complaints
and requests can make the difference between a large order
and a lost customer. Route drivers may also take orders and
The duties of driver/sales workers vary according to their
industry, the policies of their employer, and the emphasis
placed on their sales responsibility. Most have wholesale
routes that deliver to businesses and stores, rather than
to homes. For example, wholesale bakery driver/sales workers
deliver and arrange bread, cakes, rolls, and other baked goods
on display racks in grocery stores. They estimate how many
of each item to stock by paying close attention to what is
selling. They may recommend changes in a store’s order or
encourage the manager to stock new bakery products. Laundries
that rent linens, towels, work clothes, and other items employ
driver/sales workers to visit businesses regularly to replace
soiled laundry. Their duties also may include soliciting new
customers along their sales route.
After completing their route, driver/sales workers place
orders for their next deliveries based on product sales and
Truck driving has become less physically demanding because
most trucks now have more comfortable seats, better ventilation,
and improved, ergonomically designed cabs. Although these
changes make the work environment less taxing, driving for
many hours at a stretch, loading and unloading cargo, and
making many deliveries can be tiring. Local truck drivers,
unlike long-distance drivers, usually return home in the evening.
Some self-employed long-distance truck drivers who own and
operate their trucks spend most of the year away from home.
Design improvements in newer trucks have reduced stress and
increased the efficiency of long-distance drivers. Many newer
trucks are equipped with refrigerators, televisions, and bunks.
The U.S. Department of Transportation governs work hours
and other working conditions of truck drivers engaged in interstate
commerce. A long-distance driver may drive for 11 hours and
work for up to 14 hours—including driving and non-driving
duties—after having 10 hours off-duty. A driver may not drive
after having worked for 60 hours in the past 7 days or 70
hours in the past 8 days unless they have taken at least 34
consecutive hours off-duty. Most drivers are required to document
their time in a logbook. Many drivers, particularly on long
runs, work close to the maximum time permitted because they
typically are compensated according to the number of miles
or hours they drive. Drivers on long runs face boredom, loneliness,
and fatigue. Drivers often travel nights, holidays, and weekends
to avoid traffic delays.
Local truck drivers frequently work 50 or more hours a week.
Drivers who handle food for chain grocery stores, produce
markets, or bakeries typically work long hours—starting late
at night or early in the morning. Although most drivers have
regular routes, some have different routes each day. Many
local truck drivers, particularly driver/sales workers, load
and unload their own trucks. This requires considerable lifting,
carrying, and walking each day.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
State and Federal regulations govern the qualifications and
standards for truck drivers. All drivers must comply with
Federal regulations and any State regulations that are in
excess of those Federal requirements. Truck drivers must have
a driver’s license issued by the State in which they live,
and most employers require a clean driving record. Drivers
of trucks designed to carry 26,000 pounds or more—including
most tractor-trailers, as well as bigger straight trucks—must
obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) from the State
in which they live. All truck drivers who operate trucks transporting
hazardous materials must obtain a CDL, regardless of truck
size. In order to receive the hazardous materials endorsement
a driver must be fingerprinted and submit to a criminal background
check by the Transportation Security Administration. Federal
regulations governing CDL administration allow for States
to exempt farmers, emergency medical technicians, firefighters,
some military drivers, and snow and ice removers from the
need for a CDL at the State’s discretion. In many States a
regular driver’s license is sufficient for driving light trucks
To qualify for a CDL an applicant must have a clean driving
record, pass a written test on rules and regulations, and
then demonstrate that they can operate a commercial truck
safely. A national database permanently records all driving
violations committed by those with a CDL. A State will check
these records and deny a CDL to those who already have a license
suspended or revoked in another State. Licensed drivers must
accompany trainees until they get their own CDL. A person
may not hold more than one license at a time and must surrender
any other licenses when a CDL is issued. Information on how
to apply for a CDL may be obtained from State motor vehicle
Many States allow those who are as young as 18 years old
to drive trucks within their borders. To drive a commercial
vehicle between States one must be 21 years of age, according
to the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT), which
establishes minimum qualifications for truck drivers engaging
in interstate commerce. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations—published
by U.S. DOT—require drivers to be at least 21 years old and
to pass a physical examination once every 2 years. The main
physical requirements include good hearing, at least 20/40
vision with glasses or corrective lenses, and a 70-degree
field of vision in each eye. Drivers may not be colorblind.
Drivers must be able to hear a forced whisper in one ear at
not less than 5 feet, with a hearing aid if needed. Drivers
must have normal use of arms and legs and normal blood pressure.
Drivers may not use any controlled substances, unless prescribed
by a licensed physician. Persons with epilepsy or diabetes
controlled by insulin are not permitted to be interstate truck
drivers. Federal regulations also require employers to test
their drivers for alcohol and drug use as a condition of employment,
and require periodic random tests of the drivers while they
are on duty. A driver must not have been convicted of a felony
involving the use of a motor vehicle; a crime involving drugs;
driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol; refusing
to submit to an alcohol test required by a State or its implied
consent laws or regulations; leaving the scene of a crime;
or causing a fatality through negligent operation of a motor
vehicle. All drivers must be able to read and speak English
well enough to read road signs, prepare reports, and communicate
with law enforcement officers and the public.
Many trucking operations have higher standards than those
described here. Many firms require that drivers be at least
22 years old, be able to lift heavy objects, and have driven
trucks for 3 to 5 years. Many prefer to hire high school graduates
and require annual physical examinations. Companies have an
economic incentive to hire less risky drivers, as good drivers
use less fuel and cost less to insure.
Taking driver-training courses is a desirable method of preparing
for truck driving jobs and for obtaining a CDL. High school
courses in driver training and automotive mechanics also may
be helpful. Many private and public vocational-technical schools
offer tractor-trailer driver training programs. Students learn
to maneuver large vehicles on crowded streets and in highway
traffic. They also learn to inspect trucks and freight for
compliance with regulations. Some programs provide only a
limited amount of actual driving experience. Completion of
a program does not guarantee a job. Those interested in attending
a driving school should check with local trucking companies
to make sure the school’s training is acceptable. Some States
require prospective drivers to complete a training course
in basic truck driving before being issued their CDL. The
Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI), a nonprofit organization
established by the trucking industry, manufacturers, and others,
certifies driver training courses at truck driver training
schools that meet industry standards and Federal Highway Administration
guidelines for training tractor-trailer drivers.
Drivers must get along well with people because they often
deal directly with customers. Employers seek driver/sales
workers who speak well and have self-confidence, initiative,
tact, and a neat appearance. Employers also look for responsible,
self-motivated individuals who are able to work well with
Training given to new drivers by employers is usually informal,
and may consist of only a few hours of instruction from an
experienced driver, sometimes on the new employee’s own time.
New drivers may also ride with and observe experienced drivers
before getting their own assignments. Drivers receive additional
training to drive special types of trucks or handle hazardous
materials. Some companies give 1 to 2 days of classroom instruction
covering general duties, the operation and loading of a truck,
company policies, and the preparation of delivery forms and
company records. Driver/sales workers also receive training
on the various types of products their company carries so
that they can effectively answer questions about the products
and more easily market them to their customers.
Although most new truck drivers are assigned to regular driving
jobs immediately, some start as extra drivers—substituting
for regular drivers who are ill or on vacation. Extra drivers
receive a regular assignment when an opening occurs.
New drivers sometimes start on panel trucks or other small
straight trucks. As they gain experience and show competent
driving skills they may advance to larger, heavier trucks
and finally to tractor-trailers.
The advancement of truck drivers generally is limited to
driving runs that provide increased earnings, preferred schedules,
or working conditions. Local truck drivers may advance to
driving heavy or specialized trucks, or transfer to long-distance
truck driving. Working for companies that also employ long-distance
drivers is the best way to advance to these positions. Few
truck drivers become dispatchers or managers.
Some long-distance truck drivers purchase trucks and go into
business for themselves. Although some of these owner-operators
are successful, others fail to cover expenses and go out of
business. Owner-operators should have good business sense
as well as truck driving experience. Courses in accounting,
business, and business mathematics are helpful. Knowledge
of truck mechanics can enable owner-operators to perform their
own routine maintenance and minor repairs.
Truck drivers and driver/sales workers held about 3.2 million
jobs in 2004. Of these workers, 451,000 were driver/sales
workers and 2.8 million were truck drivers. Most truck drivers
find employment in large metropolitan areas or along major
interstate roadways where trucking, retail, and wholesale
companies tend to have their distribution outlets. Some drivers
work in rural areas, providing specialized services such as
delivering newspapers to customers.
The truck transportation industry employed 25 percent of
all truck drivers and driver/sales workers in the United States.
Another 25 percent worked for companies engaged in wholesale
or retail trade. The remaining truck drivers and driver/sales
workers were distributed across many industries, including
construction and manufacturing.
Around 9 percent of all truck drivers and driver/sales workers
were self-employed. Of these, a significant number were owner-operators
who either served a variety of businesses independently or
leased their services and trucks to a trucking company.
Job opportunities should be favorable for truck drivers.
In addition to growth in demand for truck drivers, numerous
job openings will occur as experienced drivers leave this
large occupation to transfer to other fields of work, retire,
or leave the labor force for other reasons. Jobs vary greatly
in terms of earnings, weekly work hours, the number of nights
spent on the road, and quality of equipment. There may be
competition for the jobs with the highest earnings and most
favorable work schedules.
Overall employment of truck drivers and driver/sales workers
is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all
occupations through the year 2014, due to growth in the economy
and in the amount of freight carried by truck. Competing forms
of freight transportation—rail, air, and ship transportation—still
require trucks to move the goods between ports, depots, airports,
warehouses, retailers, and final consumers who are not connected
to these other modes of transportation. Demand for long-distance
drivers will remain strong because they can transport perishable
and time-sensitive goods more effectively than alternate modes
of transportation. Job opportunities for truck drivers with
local carriers will be more competitive than those with long-distance
carriers because of the more desirable working conditions
of local carriers.
Job opportunities may vary from year to year, since the output
of the economy dictates the amount of freight to be moved.
Companies tend to hire more drivers when the economy is strong
and their services are in high demand. When the economy slows,
employers hire fewer drivers or may lay off some drivers.
Independent owner-operators are particularly vulnerable to
slowdowns. Industries least likely to be affected by economic
fluctuation, such as grocery stores, tend to be the most stable
employers of truck drivers and driver/sales workers.
Median hourly earnings of heavy truck and tractor-trailer
drivers were $16.11 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned
between $12.67 and $20.09 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned
less than $10.18, and the highest 10 percent earned more than
$24.07 an hour. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing
the largest numbers of heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers
in May 2004 were:
|General freight trucking
|Grocery and related product wholesalers
|Specialized freight trucking
|Cement and concrete product manufacturing
Median hourly earnings of light or delivery services truck
drivers were $11.80 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned
between $8.96 and $ 16.00 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned
less than $7.20, and the highest 10 percent earned more than
$20.83 an hour. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing
the largest numbers of light or delivery services truck drivers
in May 2004 were:
|General freight trucking
|Grocery and related product wholesalers
|Building material and supplies dealers
|Automotive parts, accessories, and tire
Median hourly earnings of driver/sales workers, including
commissions, were $9.66 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent
earned between $6.94 and $14.59 an hour. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $5.96, and the highest 10 percent earned
more than $19.81 an hour. Median hourly earnings in the industries
employing the largest numbers of driver/sales workers in May
|Drycleaning and laundry services
|Direct selling establishments
|Grocery and related product wholesalers
|Limited-service eating places
Local truck drivers tend to be paid by the hour, with extra
pay for working overtime. Employers pay long-distance drivers
primarily by the mile. The per-mile rate can vary greatly
from employer to employer and may even depend on the type
of cargo they are hauling. Some long-distance drivers are
paid a percent of each load’s revenue. Typically, earnings
increase with mileage driven, seniority, and the size and
type of truck driven. Most driver/sales workers receive commissions
based on their sales in addition to their hourly wages.
Most self-employed truck drivers are primarily engaged in
long-distance hauling. Many truck drivers are members of the
International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Some truck drivers
employed by companies outside the trucking industry are members
of unions representing the plant workers of the companies
for which they work.
Other driving occupations include ambulance drivers and attendants,
except emergency medical technicians; bus drivers; and taxi drivers and chauffeurs.
Another occupation involving sales duties is sales representatives,
wholesale and manufacturing.
|Sources of Additional Information
Information on truck driver employment opportunities is available
from local trucking companies and local offices of the State
Information on career opportunities in truck driving may
be obtained from:
A list of certified tractor-trailer driver training courses
may be obtained from:
- Professional Truck Driver Institute, 2200 Mill Rd., Alexandria,
VA 22314. Internet: http://www.ptdi.org/
Information on union truck driving can be obtained from:
- The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 25 Louisiana
Ave, NW., Washington, DC 20001.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07