How you can become a truck driver

From licensing and certifications to salary and finding a job, this is what you need to know about becoming a truck driver.

How you can become a truck driver

Learn how to become a truck driver.

If you like the idea of being out on the open road, seeing different parts of the country, and non-traditional work schedules, learning how to become a truck driver might be something to consider.

Once you are fully licensed, you can choose from both employee positions and independent owner operator opportunities available throughout most of the country, says Sean McNally, vice president of public affairs for the American Trucking Association (ATA).

Read on to learn everything you need to know about how to become a truck driver, what the work is actually like, and job and income potential.

What do truck drivers do?

In simple terms, truck drivers basically transport items from one location to another. Of course, there’s more to it than that. Truck drivers often drive very long distances and may be responsible for loading and unloading cargo. They are also responsible for maintaining their trucks and trailers, following carefully mapped out routes, properly securing their cargo, and reporting to their dispatchers.

Truck driver hours and work environment

There are different types of truck driver positions. Some may follow the same local route each day, while others are long-haul drivers who travel thousands of miles per week and may be away from home for days or weeks. Schedules may have some flexibility built in depending on the position, but expect that working nights, weekends, and holidays are possible. Check out Monster’s truck driver job description for more details.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that there are some rules and regulations regarding driving time, however. Drivers may not work more than 14 hours in a row, and must have at least 10 hours off between shifts. They also cannot work more than 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days. If they work that many consecutive days, they must have 34 hours off in between.

It’s important to know that driving a truck does require physical stamina. Not only do you have to sit behind the wheel for many hours, but you may be required to load and unload heavy items.

Truck driver training requirements

You've probably guessed that step one of how to become a truck driver is getting licensed. In order to become a professional driver, you need to get a commercial driver’s license (CDL). “Just as with a regular driver’s license, you must first get a learners permit, and then you can begin training,” says McNally. You must then pass a written knowledge test and a driving skills test to obtain the CDL.

CDL requirements to become a truck driver vary state to state, but there are a number of standard requirements mandated federally, says McNally. For example, CDL applicants must provide a medical certification of their eligibility, complete CDL knowledge exams geared to the endorsements they seek, and pass a rigorous in vehicle skills test.

Broadly speaking, because commercial vehicles are larger, there are a number of additional training and safety requirements as well. “For example, drivers must be tested for drug and alcohol use before they’re hired, and randomly during the course of work," says McNally. "If a person is hauling certain materials or types of trucks, they may need additional training or certifications.”

How long does it take to get a CDL?

The timing to obtain a CDL varies, but expect that the process will take a few months. “One of the issues in getting people to get their CDL is the lack of capacity at state DMVs administering the tests, leading to some delays for prospective drivers,” says McNally. That said, it’s all about just getting through a training and certification/licensing process.

Many truck drivers attend truck driving schools, which offer programs that can last from three to six months to prepare for their CDL exams.

Many states also allow online CDL training, says McNally—at least for the book portion of the training. “The skills tests have to be performed in person and obviously learning the skills for that test also requires in person training,” he notes. In addition, a certain amount of driving time from issuance of the CLP to the CDL may be required.

Once people complete training at truck driving schools and become licenses, drivers may also receive several weeks of on-the-job training when they are hired.

How much do truck drivers make?

The pandemic had a huge impact on the truck driving industry. Truckers transporting medical supplies, food, and other essential goods remained in high demand throughout 2020, with some companies increasing their hiring. Yet in other sectors, like events and hospitality, the need for truck deliveries ground to a halt, causing layoffs.

As society begins to open back up (thanks to the vaccine), job outlook is positive. “According to the ATA’s latest projections on the future of the market for drivers, we are projecting we will need roughly a million new drivers over the next decade to handle increased freight demand and to replace an aging workforce,” says McNally.

As for salary, the BLS reported the median annual wage for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers as $45,260 as of May 2019. But since that was pre-pandemic, salaries could be higher for positions in high demand. You can look up the average salary for truck drivers in your location by using the Monster Salary Guide.

How to find a truck driver job

Ready to hit the road? Make sure your truck driver resume and truck driver cover letter are in good shape. Then, check out all the open positions for truck driver jobs on Monster. 

As for where the jobs are, according to the BLS, these are the top five states with the most job openings. Click through to find job opportunities on Monster:

Top five areas:

Learning how to become a truck driver can serve your career well. Want to stay up to date on job information? Join Monster for free todayAs a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of trucking jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. Let Monster deliver great opportunities to you today.