It's been said that the modern world wouldn't exist without truck drivers, and you can qualify for one of these vitally important jobs with the right training program. Earning a commercial driver's license (CDL) certificate from an accredited truck driving school can set you on the path to a truck driving career.
But how long does it take to get a CDL? What type of CDL licenses are there? How much do truck drivers make? On this page, we'll dig into those questions and give you the info you need to make an informed decision about your own truck driving certificate program. Read on to find out more about the truck driving profession and how you can train to join the ranks.
What do truck drivers do?
There are a few different types of CDL licenses, and each of which may require a slightly different set of truck driver skills, but the general duties of truck drivers can be fairly similar from job to job. Here's a rough rundown of the responsibilities you may be asked to handle once you graduate from truck driving school:
- Receiving dispatch orders and driving to the destination, often over long distances
- Following all applicable traffic laws and state or federal regulations
- Inspecting trucks and trailers to see if repairs or maintenance may be necessary
- Handling paperwork such as receipts, invoices and driving logs
The majority of the more than 3 million truck driving jobs in the U.S. -- 56 percent -- belong to long-haul drivers of heavy trucks. Most long-haul truckers work full time, and their schedules might include nights, weekends and holidays.
How to Become a Truck Driver
Different truck driving companies have different training requirements for their employees, but here's a standard set of guidelines that you can follow to prepare yourself for a trucking career:
- Finish high school or earn an equivalency degree like the GED
- Enroll in a truck driving certificate program and complete the requirements
- Take and pass your commercial driver's license (CDL) test
- Apply for entry-level jobs in the field
If you're still in high school and you want to excel as a truck driver, you can take classes in business, engineering and automotive science. You may not need such knowledge when you're behind the wheel, but it can make you a more well-rounded trucker and potentially raise your profile with employers.
Truck driving certificate programs
Truck driver training can be completed in several ways. Vocational and technical schools are common destinations for aspiring truckers, as well as community colleges and career institutes. Here's some detail about two of the most common types of program available for students seeking a CDL at a truck driving school:
- Certificate programs vary in length, from as long as a few months to as brief as a few weeks. These programs tend to focus on the basics of long-haul trucking and may not cover the specifics of specialized trucks like auto haulers, flatbeds or tankers. Students concerned about truck driving school cost may prefer simpler programs like these.
- Diploma programs often consist of 10-12 credit hours of coursework, which may take anywhere from three months for full-time students to a year or more for those attending school on a part-time basis. Students in these programs typically learn truck driving skills in greater depth and may qualify for specialized trucking endorsements if the right tests are taken and passed.
Depending on the institution, it may also be possible to earn an associate degree that allows you to include truck driver training as a part of its curriculum. Two-year degrees in business or automotive technology are two potential combinations for truckers who want to leave their academic options open for the future.
Online truck driving schools
If you're hoping to train for a truck driving career and you want to save yourself a few trips to campus, look for a truck driving school that offers online classes. Study-based material like regulatory guidelines and industry terminology can be easily made available in a distance education format.
A relatively speedy and reliable internet connection is typically required for online course delivery. It's also not yet possible to offer effective truck driving practice on the Web, so online students will still need to schedule their behind-the-wheel training at a campus or learning center.
What is a CDL certificate?
To put it simply, a CDL is proof that you're properly trained and capable of driving large commercial trucks. All truckers need one, and you can train for a few different classes of CDL in truck driving school. Here's a quick rundown of the three types of CDL licenses:
- Class A CDL: Most long-haul drivers hold a Class A CDL, which allows you to drive any combination of vehicles with a total weight rating over 26,000 pounds. This class of license also qualifies you to tow trailers of any weight.
- Class B CDL: If you're hoping to drive a straight truck, a box truck, a dump truck, a large bus or other heavy individual vehicles, the Class B CDL is for you. It permits you to drive single vehicles that weigh up to 26,000 pounds and tow trailers of up to 10,000 pounds.
- Class C CDL: The Class C CDL is the catch-all license for commercial vehicles that are designed to carry 16 or more passengers or transport hazardous materials but don't meet the descriptions of Class A and Class B licenses.
Some truck driving schools include a CDL exam as a part of their graduation requirements, while others may expect students to seek the exam out for themselves. Make sure to check with your advisor about your own program's approach to CDL certification.
Career advancement options for truck drivers
Many truckers looking to advance in their careers move into administrative positions like company trainer or driver recruiter. These jobs may not have strict educational requirements, but applicants who have an associate degree, a bachelor's degree or other formal education that includes administrative training are often stronger candidates.
If you're hoping to stay behind the wheel while advancing your career, you can look into earning additional endorsements to expand your hauling skillset. Some truckers also choose to go into business for themselves as owner-operators, purchasing their own rig and lining up their own contracts.
Skills and Abilities for Truck Drivers
Commercial truck driving can be demanding both physically and mentally, but certain skills and traits may help you better navigate the challenges of the job. Here's a list of top skills and abilities for truckers, according to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET):
- Multi-limb coordination is the ability to perform actions with more than one limb while seated or standing in place, which is vital when driving large trucks
- Control precision helps you react appropriately when conditions change by precisely adjusting the array of controls in your truck cab
- Reaction time comes into play on the open road when other drivers make sudden moves or something unexpected enters the roadway
- Monitoring, or assessing the performance of yourself, your truck and your tools, can help truckers ensure that they're earning money as efficiently as possible
- Time management is important for truckers, especially when it comes to meeting the work time regulations enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
Average Truck Driver Salary and Career Outlook
Long-haul truck drivers are typically paid based on the number of miles they drive. Bonuses may also come into play, depending on the company you drive for. The per-mile rate for a given haul can vary as well, based on factors like the experience of the driver and the type of cargo on board.
Here's a table of average truck driver salary and job outlook figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers||1,800,330||$45,570||6.1%|
Professional Resources for Truck Drivers
Trade associations and other professional resources can be a big help to professional truckers or other commercial drivers. They often offer advantages to members, such as providing roadside assistance, offering financing opportunities or discussing how to get paid CDL training. Take a look at this list of just a few such organizations in the trucking industry:
- United Truckers Association (UTA) has been offering its services to owner-operators, independent contractors and small fleet owners and drivers since 1995. Benefits include business management assistance, health and wellness programs and a trucking job board.
- American Trucking Associations (ATA) works to improve safety, efficiency and profitability for trucking companies while educating industry members and the public on new initiatives. Membership is open to trucking companies as well as those in industries directly related to long-haul transportation.
- The American Highway Carriers Association (AHCA) is a trucking organization that focuses on professionalism and safety. Membership benefits include scholarship opportunities for members' children and personal and business discounts on commercial insurance and other services.
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- Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, accessed April 16-17, 2019, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/53-3032.00
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