Hit the road for pay as a truck driver

What to expect as an OTR driver

A truck driver gets to see as much of the country as he or she wants, all while pulling in a steady paycheck. Darrell Landers, a 16-year veteran of the open road, works as an over-the-road, or OTR truck driver, but he also lends his expertise to safety training, as well. While you might see truck driving as a fairly hum-drum pursuit, it's a necessary facet of the supply chain. Landers notes that "Truck drivers are on the road delivering commodities to make life easier for everyone to live their lives. Almost everything you have at home at one time or another was on a truck."

If you're thinking about becoming a truck driver, you can learn from Landers' experience.

What Is a Truck Driver?

A truck driver is a professional driver who operates larger vehicles on the road, from vans to semi trucks. Some drivers work in a specific geographical region, often taking shorter trips, while others drive cross-country, sometimes covering 12,000 miles per month or more, and don't return home for several months at a time.

These professionals sometimes own their own rigs, but more often drive their employers' trucks. They must know the laws in any state through which they travel and follow federal guidelines for truck drivers. For instance, you can only drive for a certain number of hours in a stretch.

What Does a Truck Driver Do?

Truck drivers transport equipment, merchandise, and other products from one place to another. For instance, if you work for a company that contracts with a food-service business, you might haul produce or prepared meals from a food manufacturing plant to a warehouse, or from the warehouse to restaurants or supermarkets.

Landers cautions prospective truck drivers to "get ready for long hours and days away from your family." However, excellent income potential and the chance to travel on someone else's dime might make up for the extended periods away from home. Professionals who have long nurtured a sense of wanderlust might consider joining this career.

What's Training Like for Truck Drivers?

There are few barriers to entry for truck drivers, which makes this an ideal career choice if you're opposed to attending school or gaining extensive training. According to Landers, you need a "high school education, strong math skills and the ability to read and understand maps."

You must also take a commercial driver's license, or CDL, course to learn how to drive large trucks. Training costs anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000, and generally only last a few weeks. Some schools offer help with finding a job after you graduate and other perks.

According to Landers, you'll also need to learn software programs, such as "Microsoft Word, Excel, map [programs], and many others." You can learn on the job as you get exposed to helpful software and apps and explore their functions.

How Much Do Truck Drivers Make?

Truck drivers earn an average of $42,000 per year. When you first start out, you might earn $23,000 or less, but you can increase your salary potential by performing your job well and meeting all your deadlines. Drivers in certain cities, such as Chicago and Denver, might command higher salaries than in other parts of the country.

You might also earn higher wages if you work for trucking companies in other capacities during your off days. Landers says, "I also work in the office as the back-up dispatcher and driver manager. I have done this for ten years." His teaching position further increases his take-home pay and provides him with another career option when he decides he no longer wishes to drive.

What Are the Challenges and Rewards of Truck Driving?

As with all professions, truck drivers face daily challenges and rewards that keep their work interesting. Landers enjoys "training driver[s] so they can complete their duties safely," further noting that, "in the next five years, I should stop driving OTR and take the terminal manager position."

When asked about the most challenging aspect of his job, he says he struggles with "driving in big city traffic." Road congestion can increase stress levels and tension, especially on unfamiliar streets. It also slows down a truck driver's progress, which can interfere with delivery times and other deadlines.

Landers also says, "When I drive [OTR], I don't like that I'm gone all week away from my family. When I work in the office, I like being home every day." People with strong family and social ties might find long-distance trucking too stressful. This doesn't mean that you have to abandon your career aspirations, though, because many companies hire truck drivers for shorter runs within narrow regional boundaries.

If you're not careful, you can face health issues as a truck driver. For instance, sitting all day can promote obesity, especially if you rely on fast food restaurants for fuel. Focus on getting exercise when you're not behind the wheel and eating a healthy diet.

How Can Truck Drivers Advance?

If you want to maximize your earning potential, you can become an owner/operator instead of just an employee. This means you buy your own truck and other equipment and contract your services to companies in need. You can start your own business and bring other drivers into the fold. Some owner/operators have a fleet of vehicles in their operations.

If you don't want to buy your own rig, focus on long-distance trucking. You'll earn more money per mile and satisfy your travel bug at the same time. Additionally, some trucking jobs pay more than others. For greater salary potential, consider working in liquid hauling, specialty car hauling, or team driving. The most skilled drivers might want to haul oversized loads, which carries more risks but often includes better salaries.

Truck drivers enjoy an amazing sense of flexibility. They work unique schedules, which can mean long stretches of time off, and when you don't want to drive anymore, you can teach or work in dispatch instead. Start searching for the perfect truck driving job today.