Nearly every product in your home spent some time on a truck. Vegetables in your refrigerator had to be trucked from the farm to the store. The furniture you sit on had to be moved from a factory to a warehouse to your home. Even the clothes on your back most likely made a part of their journey to you by truck.
Truck drivers pick up and deliver goods from one place to another. In addition to following delivery schedules and adhering to state and local laws, drivers have to interact with customers. As a truck driver, you might have to unload freight at its destination: for example, if you deliver a load of bulk hog feed to a farm, you will have to properly unload the feed into the correct feed bin, and follow all the customer’s requirements about cleanliness, sanitation and contamination control. You would also be sure to leave the customer site looking clean and orderly. Throughout the day, truck drivers have to keep logs of all their activities. Federal regulations restrict the number of hours drivers can work per day, and you must be able to present proof that you haven’t worked more than your allowed time if a police officer requests it. The log books also record mileage and locations, so police can tell if the driver has been speeding along the way.
Heavy trucks and tractor-trailers have a capacity of at least 26,001 pounds of Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW). Drivers on heavy trucks often have long-haul routes from state to state or even into Canada and Mexico. In some cases, drivers always run the same route. For example, you might get the same daily route from Washington to New York and then home. Some drivers have ever-changing routes, depending on customer needs and their personal preference. If the company you work for has a large client base and plenty of work, you could request different routes at different times of year so that you can enjoy cool weather in Canada and Alaska in the summer and warm temperatures in Florida and Texas in the winter.
In some cases, the company may tell drivers which route to take, but more often than not the driver decides this on his own. The dispatcher will usually give the driver an address and a deadline and the driver has to figure out the best way to get the delivery to the customer on time. The planning process is a little more complicated for a heavy truck than it is for a car: the driver has to pick roads that will accommodate large trucks while avoiding traffic jams around big cities.
Long-haul drivers often travel alone, but if the customer needs the delivery right away, the company may put two drivers on the truck so that one can sleep while the other one drives. This allows drivers to meet federal requirements for rest time while still keeping the cargo rolling. The Department of Transportation (DOT) caps the number of hours one interstate trucker can drive in a day at 11. Drivers also load, unload and do paperwork, but according to DOT regulations, drivers can’t be on-duty more than 14 hours per day. Between shifts, the DOT requires 10 hours of rest for each driver, with no more than 60 hours worked in a week without being off-duty for at least 34 hours.
Light delivery services truck drivers usually stay within a smaller urban area delivering products. An example of this would be a furniture delivery truck that carries goods from a warehouse to a series of homes during the day. On a local route like this, the driver might have a crew to help unload the truck at each stop. These drivers must have excellent customer service skills and be very organized to keep track of the various stops and make sure the correct items are delivered to the right people.
Specialized drivers are able to handle unusual loads, like liquids, cars, hazardous materials. In order to carry some of these loads, you have to get special endorsements on your license, which means that you have proven your ability to carry them safely. In some cases, like hazardous materials, you must also submit to a background check.
Some of the specialized truck driving jobs covered on the following pages, include:
Each type of driving has its own lifestyle. If you deliver furniture in your hometown, you are likely to be home every night. You might have regular coworkers who help you load, unload, and navigate. This type of driver is able to have a more predictable schedule and can also spend more time with family and friends. However, local drivers may make less money than long-haul drivers. Local drivers may have to load and unload the truck several times a day, which may increase their risk of back injury due to moving heavy loads. Working around an urban area may leave you sitting in traffic several hours a day, which can be frustrating.
Long-haul drivers get to see different parts of the country, and even Canada and Mexico. Some people like the opportunity to drive for a few days at a time and not have to deal with people. The disadvantage for some is spending a lot of time alone and away from family, which can become boring and lonely over time. It can be difficult to maintain personal relationships when you are away so much, unless you excel at keeping in touch by phone and email.