Becoming A Truck Driver

Are you thinking of becoming a truck driver? The industry is stable, employing about 1 in 15 working people, with a total employment of over 8.7 million. And it’s not only stable, the industry annually faces a driver shortage of about 20,000 people; this number is expected to grow steadily over the past few years, and potentially even exceed 115,000 by 2016. Heavy truck drivers and tractor-trailer truck driving positions specifically are expected to expand by 21% by 2020. The industry in general is steadily growing, and positions are expanding beyond the number of people who annually enter the industry, so now would be an excellent time to jump into the field.

Before you can drive a truck, you’ll need a Commercial Driver’s License, from your home state, which ensures you have the proper training to operate the vehicle. In order to obtain the license, you must take a written test and a driving test, and pass both. The beginning step in the process is to take the written test, and pass. Once you have completed this, you will be issued a permit, which will allow you to practice driving with a second driver with their CDL. Once you have taken a minimum of ten practice drives, you are allowed to take your driver’s test for the CDL. If you wish to have extra specialization, you must take the appropriate skills test that would enable you to gain that extra certification.

Once you have obtained your license, you’re still not quite set to drive. You must register with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which monitors all safety regulations, both for drivers who have jobs with a specific company, and contracted drivers who work for multiple companies. The way to go about getting your registration would be to visit the FMCSA’s website; it has the entire process efficiently and easily lined up.


If you are already employed in the field, you know the job requires you stay on top of many things all at once, and you are usually accountable to many more people than just your employer. Truck drivers are required to abide by company rules, sure, but they must also follow and stay updated on new regulations in the industry, on their job specifically, and new protocols that subsequently change within their company.

Most drivers, for example are required to stay within the maximum driving hour limit, which changes with the type of vehicle you’re driving. The limits have changed over the past few years, and are likely to continue to differ in the future as the demands of Congress change.

The physical examinations a driver must keep up with each year change as well. All drivers must maintain an updated medical examiner’s certificate in order to legally drive. This report includes a medical history section that must also be updated whenever necessary. This 7 page document is also helpful for you to determine (before you would even have it filled out) if you would qualify for a job truck driving. Drivers who develop the following conditions cannot fit the medical requirements necessitated by the industry, and are therefore barred from taking a job within the industry:

  • Any respiratory dysfunction that could cause you to lose control of your vehicle (think emphysema, tuberculosis, etc.)
  • Use of any amphetamine, narcotic, or other habit forming drug
  • Loss of crucial limb (fingers, feet, leg, etc.)
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes that requires insulin control
  • Alcoholism

The driver must also pass a vision and hearing test. All drivers will additionally be required to submit to a drug and alcohol test. In 1991, Congress passed the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act. This requires nearly all drivers, part time, full time, contracted and non contracted employees, to be tested. Drivers are tested for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines and methamphetamines, and Phencyclidine. These tests also screen for alcohol, and will register a BAC of 0.02 and greater.

On the Road Training and Requirements

Drivers may enroll in the Federal Carrier Motor Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety and Accountability program, which makes it easier to assess yourself for safety compliance and to go through the process. It covers everything, all the basics, which is covered under the BASICs program, or the Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category. There are seven categories in total: unsafe driving, crash indicator, hours of service compliance, vehicle maintenance, controlled substances/alcohol, hazardous materials compliance, and driver fitness. Each program gives access to training, has helpful tips, and finally will assess your performance in this specific area, which your company uses to determine your overall safety rating.

Drivers are also required by law to wear seat belts during the time they spend operating a commercial vehicle. A study in 2013 found that while a good chunk of drivers do–about 80%–there are still many who don’t. The Federal Carrier Motor Safety Administration developed the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Belt Partnership, which is supported by most CMV associations, including the American Trucking Associations.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has a lot of literature and video guides for drivers who want extra tips.

Cell Phone Policy

Drivers must take heed to follow the CMV’s ban on cellphone use. It’s not simply texting, it is any action that requires you to push more than one button; it also forbids you from holding the cellphone in your hand while your vehicle is in motion. Drivers do have the option of mounting a phone, which would enable them to take phone calls with the push of a single button. If you are caught doing any more than that, you will be fined and more than likely you will lose your license.

There are many regulations and registrations drivers must constantly keep track of from year to year, and often the rules change. The FMCSA is a great resource for staying on top of all these changes, from year to year and state to state. Though your company will likely keep you abreast of all new developments that would affect your job, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for anything that may inadvertently change what you’d need to effectively do your job, like an emergency declaration in another state that shifts traffic to the route you’re taking.

Taking care of your livelihood won’t be overwhelming if you habitually take advantages of these resources. Every little bit could potentially help you better perform your job.