What to expect as a first year truck driver
For those who are figuring out how to become a truck driver, you should be as prepared as possible for the training you’ll need and the first year of your truck-driving career. All honest truckers will likely tell you that the first year trucking is like boot camp.
Completing your CDL training is just the beginning of what it’s like to really hit the road.
Since you don’t know what to expect on a road until you travel it, you won’t know what to expect your first year – until you experience it.
But, you can be as prepared as possible if you learn from experienced professionals and take your training seriously. Working as a truck driver can be a lucrative career for those in the higher paying positions, and there is a current driver shortage that is driving up wages and competitive benefits to attract the best drivers.
So, if you’re thinking about this career, and life on the road sounds pretty good, we suggest talking to schools or employers in your area to learn what the trucking job environment is like for you.
The following FAQ’s and tips are meant to help you learn the introductory facts about the challenges first year truckers face. The good news is that every year thousands of new drivers hit the road and make it through their second, and third, and fourth years – and so on into long term careers in trucking.
Here are 10 facts you need to know about your first year as a truck driver…
1.) You will be tested
It’s not exactly hazing, but companies and trainers want to feel confident that when they take off the training wheels, they can trust you to steer the ship. This will be especially true your first year truck driving. Many companies offer signing bonuses and other incentives to stand out in the job market. With such a financial investment and risk these positions can pose if careless drivers are allowed on the road – the first year is the time when the poor drivers will be weeded out.
The road will also test you in ways you likely can’t foresee. Fortunately, technology has made it easier for drivers to know when low bridges are up ahead, or when alternate routes would avoid construction delays, etc. Be sure to ask your fellow drivers what apps they use to avoid the pitfalls that can delay drivers and cost precious time and money.
2.) Make friends with your trainer
Your first month or so on as a truck driver may be spent with a trainer – and let’s be honest: some people just don’t mesh. You may not like your trainer, but if you’re driving hundreds of miles with them, you should try to be friends with them. Plus, you have to view every encounter with your more experienced peers as an ongoing job interview.
Even if you find your trainer irritating, just remember, it’s only for a short period of time. Plus, they may give you insight that is helpful in your role at their company. And you can bank on this: they will report your behavior and attitude back to their superiors who will want to know how your training went.
3.) Prepare your mind for the lifestyle
Look, if you’re used to working 9-5 – no matter what the job – you’re going to have to get your mind prepared for the shift. This could make or break your first year, and career, in the field.
That may sound dramatic, but if you embrace the fact you’re going to spend most of your time driving, and find ways to make the most of it, then you’ll be happiest in your job. And you’ll be a better driver for it, your attitude will be positive, and your employer will know it.
Think about ways you can keep your mind and body healthy, and still participate in activities you enjoy while working in trucking. This can be challenging to do if you already have unhealthy habits or have formed a negative attitude about your initial challenges.
4.) You may have to ‘win’ local positions
Some companies that have local, regional and cross-country OTR routes don’t just hand out the local positions to the newbies. Are you kidding? That would cause a rebellion or mutiny (take your pick) from the drivers with tenure who have spent years proving their loyalty and abilities.
You think they’re going to let the kid who’s fresh out of CDL truck driving school waltz in and take the good routes that guarantee you get home every night? Ha! Of course, with the need for truckers high in most areas of the industry, finding local routes might not be so difficult for beginners in your area. If you know this going in, you’re bound to put more effort into getting the job you really want.
5.) CDL driver salary and pay will be entry-level
For all the talk about signing bonuses and other incentives, you will still start out at a lower per mile rate than a driver with 3+ years of experience. That’s just the way it is, simply because a driver with more miles is (probably) a safer investment than an unproven driver.
But don’t let that deter you from moving forward with a trucking career. There are plenty of companies out there who are looking for qualified drivers and who offer paths to top pay, health benefits, 401K, and other incentives for hanging on until you prove yourself. Plus, if you look at the job market, the trucking industry has some promising statistics for drivers. The occupational outlook for trucking is expected to keep pace with the rate of employment for all other industries, on average.
6.) Be flexible
Life in the transportation industry is never predictable. You will never know what’s in store with each load. There could be issues with the load itself, the route, the information you receive could be wrong, you could break down, or you might have to change your schedule in an instant due to any number of circumstances.
Just remember, these things that pop up annoy everyone on all sides of the supply chain. Even though it may seem like you’re alone in your spot within the trucking industry, JFK wasn’t kidding when he said “no man is an island.” There are many moving parts in trucking, and you’re just hanging on to one of the kogs in the machine. Have a good attitude and be the kind of driver your carrier can rely on when the plan flies out the window.
7.) Your first love will not be your last
That may sound a bit dramatic, but don’t get overly concerned with landing your dream trucking job your first year into trucking. Even though you may consider yourself a loyal driver, you never know what opportunities or turns your life may take. Plus, if you’re too picky your first year, you may never get the experience you need to work for your dream carrier.
It might even be in your best interests to start with a local delivery driver job. Even though these positions tend to pay less than OTR gigs, they can help you dip your toe in the water and adjust to the trucking life at an easier pace.
8.) Hours are not 40 a week
In full-time CDL driver jobs, you mostly likely will have to work up to 70 hours in an 8-day period. After this, you have to rest for a minimum of 34 hours, according to regulations. This is to ensure you get enough sleep between runs, which increases safety for yourself and other drivers.
If you’re an OTR driver, your schedule can fluctuate all the time. If you work a delivery route, or one that is consistent, you may get a better handle on what to expect as a driver. That’s why it’s important to ask every employer what kinds of hours and flexibility is required of drivers.
9.) You need to make sure your life and your job align
If you’re a regional driver you can probably expect to come home about once a week. If you have a regular route, chances are even better that you can have a more regular schedule that you might expect.
OTR drivers are typically out for longer periods of time, so if you choose this path your first year, be sure your personal responsibilities will adapt to this type of lifestyle.
10.) You’re not going to get the best loads
Just like the routes – you’re not going to get the better loads compared to the more experienced drivers that get the higher paying shipments. That’s just the breaks of being a first-year driver.
In this way, it kind of can feel like a hazing or rookie ritual you might expect from an NFL training camp. Look, every driver has to make it through his or her first year, which means every driver knows what it’s like to have the bad routes, and lower paying loads. Not everyone is first string as soon as they walk on the team, and that’s just how it is.
When you speak with schools or companies, be sure to ask what kinds of challenges or facts their first-year drivers need to understand before signing on. With the need for quality drivers at an all-time-high, you should find the atmosphere is pretty friendly and accommodating for new men and women drivers.
Do you think you’re ready to handle the ups-and-downs of your first year on the road in a trucking job? If you need to earn your CDL or certifications for the job you want, use our listings of trucking schools in your area to find out how to get moving down the road!