Steps to Become a Professional Truck Driver

Val Tkachuck
Val Tkachuck
April 11, 2024
Steps to Become a Professional Truck Driver

If you love driving and would like to turn this hobby into a way to make money, you should consider working as a truck driver. Below, we'll explain what responsibilities typically come with this position, check career paths you can follow, analyze salary levels in the United States, and share the key steps to become a truck driver.

What Does a Truck Driver Do?

First of all, you must understand that truck driving is not a one-size-fits-all profession for every person who knows how to drive a car. Quite often, these drivers have to spend too much time on the road, interrupted only by short breaks; moreover, some job positions imply a constant stay away from home. However, they have several standard responsibilities:

  • Driving a truck with cargo from the point of departure to the destination along a given route;
  • Loading and unloading cargo;
  • Inspection of cargo at the time of loading and unloading;
  • Following instructions for transporting cargo;
  • Ensuring compliance with traffic rules for drivers of large vehicles;
  • Ensuring compliance with DOT regulations for truck drivers;
  • Maintaining the truck in a clean and operational condition (we mean timely contacting service station specialists in case of detection of malfunctions).

You should also take into account that depending on the duration of your trips and the distances you cover, these truck driver requirements may be expanded by additional ones.

Steps to Become a Truck Driver

If you want to get into truck driving you will have to go through the following path.

Steps to Become a Truck Driver

Compliance with the required age and education

It turns out that driving school is not the initial stage. Before enrolling and receiving a driver's license upon graduation, you already need to ensure compliance with some mandatory trucking requirements.

In particular, in the vast majority of states in the United States, only persons at least 21 years of age and those who have the right to work legally in a particular state can be engaged in commercial trucking. Also, your history should not include serious accidents due to your fault or fines for violating driving rules. Finally, you need to have a high school diploma or GED, although this is not obligatory for every employer.

Become a driving school student

Now that you have met the above requirements, you can register for a truck driving program in your city. It is important to find a school that does not limit its students only to theoretical knowledge but also provides deep practical skills. As for the duration of training, it can vary from several weeks to a year.

Get a license

Because driving a large vehicle has many nuances, you need to obtain a driver's license that allows you to drive a truck in your state. Note that the exam is unique for each state, but they all usually consist of practical (to check driving skills) and theoretical (to test knowledge of traffic rules) parts.

Pass the FMCSA exam

After you have passed your driver's license test, you will also need to pass the FMCSA test. There is also a practical and theoretical part. However, unlike the previous exam, the practice involves testing vision and hearing, and theory implies testing knowledge of federal legislation. Please note that passing the practical part is required every two years.

Start with simple job offers

If you pass both exams, you can start looking for your first job. It's best to start with job offerors with simple duties that don't require too much time away from home or strict cargo transportation requirements. As for where to look for a job, you can first consider those offers that the driving school where you studied will provide you with.

Also, never discount companies that you have long been interested in and for which you would like to work. After receiving a job offer, some employers may ask you to take some internal exams or drug tests. Therefore, you must be prepared for this.

Take advantage of training offers provided by the company where you work

Due to the high staff turnover among truck drivers, companies are usually interested in creating the most comfortable working conditions for their employees. That’s why they offer them opportunities for career growth within the company.

This means that over time, your employer will offer you training courses (lasting from several weeks to several months) aimed at boosting your skills, and this way, you will be able to earn even more.

At the same time, quite often, such courses precede full-time employment as a driver, so successfully passing the exam upon their completion will be the main sign that you have been hired.

Career Paths for Truck Drivers

In general, there are several career development options for truck drivers:

  • Salary growth within the same company (the longer you work for one employer, the more confidence you usually have, and the more likely it is that your rates and bonuses will increase over time)
  • Becoming an owner-operator (you can work independently to expand your salary opportunities)
  • Becoming an OTR truck driver (usually, drivers who travel long distances have high salary rates, but you need to be prepared for the fact that you will often have to be away from home)
  • Becoming a short-haul driver (this job will likely require you to travel within the state)
  • Becoming a CDL instructor (this way, you can continue to do what you love without having to deal with the long trips and other inconveniences typical of truck drivers)
  • Becoming a cargo transportation manager (if you notice strong supervising skills in yourself, you can try to master this position)
  • Work in retirement (given the absence of age restrictions for truck drivers, for some people who have crossed the age threshold of 50-60 years, this work may be the best solution)

Ultimately, you can always turn to your current employer if you are no longer satisfied with your job – perhaps they will offer you something really worthwhile here. 

How Long Does It Take to Become a Truck Driver?

Since the primary indicator of your hire eligibility is the presence of a CDL, you need to evaluate the time frame from that perspective. Thus, obtaining this license usually takes from three weeks to six months.

At the same time, if your employer offers you to complete an in-company training program, you will also have to add a month to a year to this period, and only after that, you will be officially hired for your first job as a truck driver. 

How Much Do Truck Drivers Make?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly releases analytics on the demand for a particular job position. So, for drivers of trucks with trailers until 2029, there will be an increase in employment by 2%. Of course, there are a lot of job positions where this growth in demand is more rapid, but even such indicators can say that the solution to become a trucker is promising these days. 

For example, salaries at leading trucking companies reach $100,000 per year or more. However, this is not the limit – in particular, owner operators earn from $250,000 per year. If you want to know more accurate numbers, they can be found in our article below.

Ready to Start Your Career as a Truck Driver?

If after reading this article you have finally realized that you want to become a truck driver, you can check other articles on our blog to dive further into the specifics of this profession.