How to Become a Truck Driver
Trucking earns good money, so it attracts a lot of people. There are over 3 million truckers in the United States, which means roughly one in every hundred Americans, young or old, is a professional trucker. While the money is good, the hours are long, and the hours are lonely, and the hours are far away from home. If that sounds like I’ve overstretching the point, ask a real truck driver, and they’ll give you any one of the industry jokes about how long and lonely the hours can be.
Not only are the hours long, but not everyone can make it to even be considered as a truck driver. Here are the hurdles you’ll have to pass to even earn an interview at a trucking company.
1) Have a GED or a high school diploma.
Most schools require this. There are a handful that don’t, but they are not among the better schools. Getting your GED will also help you when it comes time for interviews, and it will earn you tens of thousands of dollars extra salary over the course of your lifetime. So go get the paper and make your mother proud.
2) Maintain as perfect a driving record as possible.
DWIs and DUIs are obvious to avoid (even one five years in your past can cut you from the driving school acceptance lists, and will seriously impair your chances at job interviews). But you should also avoid speeding tickets, and exercise defensive driving. Trucking company owners like to have employees who can say its been a decade or more since they’ve had so much as a fender bender.
3) Get your CDL, or Commercial Driver’s License.
You will need a rating that allows you to drive a truck over 26,000 pounds, and allows you to transport hazardous materials. There are two tests to get a CDL — one a three-part practicum where you demonstrate your skills behind the wheel, and the other a written exam. Taking the test/s will cost about $75.
Each state has a different test/s, and different ways to prepare for the tests. In some states, like California, you can just read the Commercial Driver Handbook manual and take a few practice tests before you take the CDL, but other states require classroom time and behind-the-wheel training programs. Even if your state does not require classroom training, it can’t hurt. Contact your community college to see what the classroom options are near you.
And by the way… some people don’t have to take the CDL exam. If you have been driving an emergency vehicle, military vehicles, recreational vehicles, driving a single unit truck or work for a public transportation and drive a truck for them, you may already have the skills required. Farmers and farm employees who transport their goods more than 150 miles may also qualify. Call your state Department of Motor Vehicles and find out if your specific situation and experience is enough for a CDL.
4) Pass the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) exam
administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation. There are two parts to this test, too: a written exam, and physical exams for hearing and vision. Oh, and expect to get a surprise drug test at some point through all these physical tests.
There is a tremendous amount of information at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website, and that will give you a good idea of what you are getting into. In addition to the basic license, there are also different requirements for double and triple trailers, transporting passengers (including driving school buses), and transporting tanks and hazardous materials. The information is in semi-legal speak, and there are thousands of pages of it. There’s a reason there are third party schools that help people navigate all the requirements.
5) After passing the FMCSR, you are legally ready to get behind the wheel of a big rig.
But to stay on the road you’ll need to re-pass the physical part of the FMCSR exam every two years.