Truck drivers get paid either per dispatched mile, by percentage of load revenue, or salary. Pay scales depend on each driver’s employment status. Those that are company drivers—employees of the trucking company—get a lower rate per mile than lease- or owner-operators, but they don’t pay fuel or maintenance costs that independent operators do. Mileage pay increases with experience, while independent operators’ pay generally maintains at the same rate, regardless of term of contract. Percentage pay revolves around a set share of the reimbursement received by the trucking company to transport the freight. The operator assumes responsibility for fuel, maintenance, and routing.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Job Description and Outlook
Truck drivers drive the nation’s economy, transporting raw materials to manufacturers and delivering finished goods to wholesalers, distribution centers, and retailers. Without these professionals no business could long survive without a working supply chain. A truck driver must ensure all assigned equipment, whether the semi-tractor, the trailer, or additional safety and security equipment, is in good working order. The driver conducts comprehensive vehicle inspections at a periodicity that meets minimum federal, state, or trucking company requirements. A truck driver is entrusted to safely transport assigned freight from point to point, whether across town, across the country, or across the northern or southern border. The operator maintains proper logs and safeguards freight paperwork from pick-up point to delivery destination. Truck drivers may be required to load or unload freight. Most companies compensate the driver minimal amounts for the additional effort.
Figures from the US Department of Labor reflect preliminary figures that as of June 2010, jobs related to the transporation industry entered a slight downturn; historically, this slump is temporary and traditional as fuel prices rise during the summer months. The figures improve in late summer and into the autumn, and projections indicate approximately 110,000 openings will be created by the end of the year. 80% of all goods and the raw materials are transported by truck drivers, and businesses, manufacturers, and consumers need goods to survive; the projection reflects that continued and growing need for professional truck drivers.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
The Federal Department of Transportation requires that every driver of vehicles having a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of 26,001 lbs, which includes both the weight of the semi-tractor, the trailer, and the loaded freight, to possess a valid Commercial Driver’s License. Because of the highly specialized training involving in learning how to safely operate Class A or Class B vehicles, the driver candidate must attend and graduate from an authorized and licensed driving school, passing all written and driving tests within the school structure and state licensing requirements. The federal Department of Transportation requires that CDL holders be at least 21 years old with a minimum of three years of driving history and possess a high school diploma or GED. Trucking companies may have additional requirements and restrictions; common limitations include driving records, criminal history, clean drug tests, and health restrictions.
Beyond having a valid CDL in the state of residence, there are no additional certifications required. However, within having a CDL, a driver must pass not only basic written exams and a driving test, the driver must have basic certification on two specialty sub-areas: air brakes and combination vehicles.
Air brakes operate differently than the brake systems on passenger cars and vans. There is always a time lag between when the brake pedal is depressed and when the brakes start to work. Distance, speed, and road conditions play greater roles in operating an air brake system than the standard brakes with which new drivers are familiar. Therefore, special training is required, and departments of transportation in each state mandated special certification before a CDL is awarded.
Combination vehicles are any that comprise two distinct parts. In commercial driving the semi-tractor is one part, and the trailer is the second. Sections of the whole ensemble that can be physically disconnected are considered parts of the combination vehicle. Some buses that are joined in the middle are also combination vehicles; the accordian-type curtain hides the space between bus halves for safety.
Additional endorsements on a CDL can widen a truck driver’s options. A truck driver can pass written tests and have included certification to pull tankers, double- and triple-trailers, and hazardous material or HazMat. HazMat endorsements encompass more than just written tests, however. The FBI conducts in-depth background checks on HazMat applicants, and there is an application fee that is approximately 7.5 times than the minor fee for other endorsements. Not having endorsements, though, does not impede a truck driver from earning a living.
Owner operators, those drivers who lease or own the trucks they drive, are more inclined to join professional organizations and associations than are company drivers. Most driver organizations gear themselves on tracking federal regulations, lobbying for standards that benefit their membership, and sometimes assist the government in research studies. National organizations include the National Truckers Association, the American Truckers Association, Women in Trucking, America’s Independent Truckers Association or AITA, National Association of Small Trucking Companies, Owner-Operated Independent Truckers, Inc., and hundreds of state-level associations and specialty hauling organizations.