Working Conditions and Employment - Being a Truck Driver

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Training and Advancement
State and Federal regulations govern the qualifications and standards for all truck drivers. All drivers must comply with Federal regulations and any State regulations that are stricter than Federal requirements. Truck drivers must have a driver's license issued by the State in which they live, and most employers require a clean driving record. What constitutes a clean record can be interpreted differently by private employers.

CDL License
Drivers of trucks designed to carry at least 26,000 pounds—including most tractor-trailers, as well as bigger straight trucks—must obtain a commercial driver's license (CDL license) from the State in which they live. All truck drivers who operate trucks transporting hazardous materials must obtain a CDL, regardless of truck size.

CDL License Exemptions
Federal regulations governing the CDL exempt certain groups, including farmers, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, some military drivers, and snow and ice removers. In many States, a regular driver's license is sufficient for driving trucks and vans carrying less than 26,000 pounds.

Qualifying and Holding a CDL License
To qualify for a commercial driver's license, applicants must pass a written test on rules and regulations, and then demonstrate that they can operate a commercial truck safely. A national databank permanently records all driving violations incurred by persons who hold commercial licenses. A State will check these records and deny a commercial driver's license to a driver who already has a license suspended or revoked in another State. Licensed drivers or instructors must accompany trainees until the trainees get their own CDL. Top Trucking can help you with where and how to apply for a commercial driver's license from a great truck driving school that has accreditation to award CDL licenses. You may also inquire about CDL licenses from State motor vehicle administrations.

Basic CDL License Requirements
While many States allow those who are at least 18 years old to drive trucks within State borders, the U.S. Department of Transportation establishes minimum qualifications for truck drivers engaged in interstate commerce. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require drivers to be at least 21 years old and to pass a physical examination once every 2 years.

The main physical requirements include good hearing, at least 20/40 vision with glasses or corrective lenses, and a 70-degree field of vision in each eye. Drivers can not be colorblind. Drivers must be able to hear a forced whisper in one ear at not less than 5 feet, with a hearing aide if needed. Drivers must have normal use of arms and legs and normal blood pressure. Drivers can not use any controlled substances, unless prescribed by a licensed physician. Persons with epilepsy or diabetes controlled by insulin are not permitted to be interstate truck drivers. Federal regulations also require employers to test their drivers for alcohol and drug use as a condition of employment, and require periodic random tests of the drivers while they are on duty. In addition, a driver must not have been convicted of a felony involving the use of a motor vehicle; a crime using drugs; driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol; or hit-and-run driving that resulted in injury or death.

All drivers must be able to read and speak English well enough to read road signs, prepare reports, and communicate with law enforcement officers and the public. Also, drivers must take a written examination on the Motor Carrier Safety Regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Many private trucking operations have higher standards than those previously described.

CDL License Training Courses
Attending one of your local accredited truck driving schools is a desirable method of preparing for the job and for obtaining a commercial driver's license. High school courses in automotive mechanics also may be helpful. In truck driver training, students learn to maneuver large vehicles on crowded streets and in highway traffic. A good truck school also helps students learn how to inspect trucks and freight for compliance with Federal, State, and local regulations.

Careers in the Transportation and Trucking Industry
Drivers must get along well with people because they often deal directly with customers. Employers seek driver/sales workers who speak well and have self-confidence, initiative, tact, and a neat appearance. Employers also look for responsible, self-motivated individuals able to work with little supervision.

Truck driver training given to new drivers by employers is usually informal, and may consist of only a few hours of instruction from an experienced driver, sometimes on the new employee's own time. New drivers may also ride with and observe experienced drivers before assignment of their own runs. Drivers receive additional training to drive special types of trucks or handle hazardous materials.

If you don't think truck schools are for you, another way to break into the transportation industry is getting driving experience in the Armed Forces. In some cases, a person may also start as a truck driver's helper, driving part of the day and helping to load and unload freight. Although most new truck drivers are assigned immediately to regular driving jobs, some start as extra drivers, substituting for regular drivers who are ill or on vacation. They receive a regular assignment when an opening occurs.

Transportation Industry Advancement
Advancement of truck drivers is usually limited to driving runs that provide increased earnings or preferred schedules and working conditions. For the most part, a local truck driver may advance to driving heavy or special types of trucks, or transfer to shorter-distance routes. A few truck drivers may advance to dispatcher, manager, or traffic work - for example, planning delivery schedules.

Some more advanced truck drivers purchase a truck and go into business for themselves. Many of these owner-operators are successful and advance quickly. It helps if owner-operators study and develop good business sense alongside their truck driving skills. Courses in accounting, business, and business mathematics are helpful, and knowledge of truck mechanics can enable owner-operators to perform their own routine maintenance and minor repairs.

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