Working as a Truck Driver

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Nature of Work - Being a Truck Driver

Truck drivers are a constant presence on the Nation's highways and interstates, delivering everything from automobiles to canned foods. Firms of all kinds rely on trucks for pickup and delivery of goods because no other form of transportation can deliver goods from doorstep to doorstep. Even if goods travel in part by ship, train, or airplane, trucks carry nearly all goods at some point in their journey from producer to consumer.

The length of deliveries varies according to the type of merchandise and its final destination. Local drivers may provide daily service for a specific route, while other drivers make intercity and interstate deliveries that take longer and may vary from job to job. The driver's responsibilities and assignments change according to the time spent on the road, the type of payloads transported, and vehicle size.

The truck driver’s job begins even before they get behind the wheel. Safety is important on the road – so before leaving the terminal or warehouse, a truck driver is expected to do a safety check. Truck drivers check the fuel level and oil in their trucks. They also inspect the trucks to make sure the brakes, windshield wipers, and lights are working and that a fire extinguisher, flares, and other safety equipment are aboard and in working order. Drivers make sure their cargo is secure and adjust their mirrors so that both sides of the truck are visible from the driver's seat. Drivers report equipment that is inoperable, missing, or loaded improperly to the dispatcher.

Most truck driving positions fall into one of two categories – heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers or light or delivery services truck drivers

Heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers drive trucks or vans with a capacity of at least 26,000 Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW).
  • They transport goods including cars, livestock, and other materials in liquid, loose, or packaged form.
  • Many routes are from city to city and cover long distances.
  • Some companies use two drivers on very long runs—one drives while the other sleeps in a berth behind the cab.
  • "Sleeper" runs may last for days, or even weeks, usually with the truck stopping only for fuel, food, loading, and unloading.
After these truck drivers reach their destination or complete their operating shift, the U.S. Department of Transportation requires that they complete reports detailing the trip, the condition of the truck, and the circumstances of any accidents. In addition, Federal regulations require employers to subject drivers to random alcohol and drug tests while they are on duty.

Long-distance heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers spend most of their working time behind the wheel, but may load or unload their cargo after arriving at the final destination. This is especially common when drivers haul specialty cargo, because they may be the only one at the destination familiar with procedures or certified to handle the materials. Auto-transport drivers, for example, drive and position cars on the trailers and head ramps at the manufacturing plant and remove them at the dealerships. When picking up or delivering furniture, drivers of long-distance moving vans hire local workers to help them load or unload.

Light or delivery services truck drivers drive trucks or vans with a capacity under 26,000 GVW:
  • They deliver or pick up merchandise and packages within a specific area.
  • These services may require use of delivery tracking or location software to track the whereabouts of the merchandise or packages.
  • Light or delivery services truck drivers usually load or unload the merchandise at the customer's place of business.
  • Typically, before the driver arrives for work, material handlers load the trucks and arrange items in order of delivery to minimize handling of the merchandise.
  • At the end of the day, drivers turn in receipts, money, records of deliveries made, and any reports on mechanical problems with their trucks.
Some local truck drivers have sales and customer service responsibilities. The primary responsibility of driver/sales workers, or route drivers, is to deliver and sell their firm's products over established routes or within an established territory. They sell goods such as food products, including restaurant takeout items, or pick up and deliver items such as laundry. Their response to customer complaints and requests can make the difference between a large order and a lost customer. Route drivers may also take orders and collect payments.

The duties of driver/sales workers vary according to their industry, the policies of their particular company, and the emphasis placed on their sales responsibility. Most have wholesale routes that deliver to businesses and stores, rather than to homes. For example, wholesale bakery driver/sales workers deliver and arrange bread, cakes, rolls, and other baked goods on display racks in grocery stores. They estimate the amount and variety of baked goods to stock by paying close attention to the items that sell well and to those left sitting on the shelves. They may recommend changes in a store's order or encourage the manager to stock new bakery products. Driver/sales workers employed by laundries that rent linens, towels, work clothes, and other items visit businesses regularly to replace soiled laundry. From time to time, they solicit new orders from businesses along their route.

After completing their route, driver/sales workers order items for the next delivery based on product sales trends, weather, and customer requests.

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