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Working Conditions and Employment - Being a Truck Driver
The New Workplace on the Road
Truck driving has become less physically demanding because most trucks now have more comfortable seats, better ventilation, and improved, ergonomically-designed cabs. Although these changes make the work environment more attractive, driving for many hours at a stretch, unloading cargo, and making many deliveries can be tiring. Local truck drivers, unlike long-distance drivers, usually return home in the evening. Some self-employed long-distance truck drivers who own and operate their trucks spend most of the year away from home.
Design improvements in newer trucks reduce stress and increase the efficiency of long-distance drivers. Many of the newer trucks are virtual mini-apartments on wheels, equipped with refrigerators, televisions, and bunks. Satellites and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) link many of these state-of-the-art vehicles with company headquarters. Troubleshooting information, directions, weather reports, and other important communications can be delivered to the truck anywhere in the country within seconds. Drivers can easily communicate with the dispatcher to discuss delivery schedules and courses of action in the event of mechanical problems. The satellite linkup also allows the dispatcher to track the truck's location, fuel consumption, and engine performance.
Many drivers must also work with computerized inventory tracking equipment. It is important for the producer, warehouse, and customer to know the product's location at all times, in order to keep costs low and the quality of service high. For example, voice recognition software has replaced bar code readers in some freezer and refrigerator trucks, reducing error rates and improving function in cold conditions. Drivers must be able to adapt to an increasingly technology-driven workplace. Many truck driving schools can help introduce new drivers to the technology they will experience when they join the workforce.
The U.S. Department of Transportation governs work hours and other working conditions of truck drivers engaged in interstate commerce. A long-distance driver cannot work more than 60 hours in any 7-day period. Federal regulations also require that truckers rest 8 hours for every 10 hours of driving. Many drivers, particularly on long runs, work close to the maximum time permitted because they typically are compensated according to the number of miles or hours they drive. Drivers on long runs may face boredom, loneliness, and fatigue. Drivers frequently travel at night, on holidays, and weekends to avoid traffic delays and deliver cargo on time.
Local truck drivers frequently work 50 or more hours a week. Drivers who handle food for chain grocery stores, produce markets, or bakeries typically work long hours, starting late at night or early in the morning. Although most drivers have regular routes, some have different routes each day. Many local truck drivers, particularly driver/sales workers, load and unload their own trucks. This requires considerable lifting, carrying, and walking each day.
Truck drivers and driver/sales workers held about 3.3 million jobs in 2000. Most truck drivers find employment in large metropolitan areas along major interstate roadways where major trucking, retail, and wholesale companies have distribution outlets. Some drivers work in rural areas, providing specialized services such as delivering newspapers to customers or coal to a railroad.
Trucking companies employed about 28 percent of all truck drivers in the United States. Almost 32 percent worked for companies engaged in wholesale or retail trade, such as auto parts stores, oil companies, lumber yards, restaurants, or distributors of food and grocery products. The remaining truck drivers were distributed across many industries, including construction, manufacturing, and services.
Fewer than 1 out of 10 truck drivers were self-employed. Of these, a significant number were owner-operators who either served a variety of businesses independently or leased their services and trucks to a trucking company. Truck driving schools can help many drivers become competitive job-seekers, and their training can help them attain more desirable jobs and assignments.