Tired of mounting bills and no job? Don’t relish spending $100 grand on a four-year degree with no guarantee of a job? Hate the idea of being stuck in an office job working 10-hour days in a windowless cubicle? There is an alternative you may not have considered—driving a big rig.
It’s an outdoor job with no one to bug you while you’re on the open road. And the pay and benefits aren’t half bad. Some of the happiest people I know are truck drivers. Ready to get started?
You can’t just climb into today’s big rigs and hit the road. You’ll need to know how to operate them and do some basic maintenance on these big beasts. Not to worry. Many high schools and driving schools offer driving classes and show you how to earn a commercial driver's license. You’ll get some behind the wheel experience and learn the rules and regulations of weights and loading as well as state and federal transportation laws.
To qualify for a truck driver’s license, you’ll need to be trained by The Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). This nonprofit educational organization, funded by the trucking industry, offers a number of certified training courses. Once you complete their training, they’ll help you find a job.
Most trucking companies require a commercial driver's license. If you already have a driver's license in your home state, you’ll qualify for training to earn your commercial driver's license. You’ll need to complete a short driver’s course, pass a written exam, and have a clean driving record. After you get your commercial license, your driving background will go into a federal database. If you violate the driving laws in any state, you could lose your commercial license. So it pays to follow each state’s commercial driving laws to the letter.
A growing number of companies also insist that you have at least a high school diploma. In addition, most states have laws that require truck drivers be at least 18 years of age. If you expect to hire on as a heavy freight truck driver, you’ll need at least a couple of years experience driving a big rig. Finally, many transportation companies will also require you to complete certification classes before they’ll take you on as a full-time driver.
Some companies will start you off as an "extra driver." It’s an easy way to break into the profession. As an extra driver, you’ll fill in for more experienced drivers who may be on vacation or off the job due to an illness or on-the-job injury.
During your first year as a truck driver, you probably won’t be assigned to drive heavy freight trucks. The company will most likely start you on a lighter truck. You won’t earn a big salary and the benefits will be pretty basic.
If you want to move up in this industry, you’ll need to maintain a safe driving record, show up for work on time, and complete your deliveries on schedule. It also helps to take some additional training in advanced equipment.
If you decide that you really enjoy driving a truck, you can make the commitment and buy or lease your own rig. As an owner-operator, you’ll have the potential to earn more money and greater independence. The drawback, of course, is that this calls for a sizeable initial investment, as well as paying for your own insurance and vehicle maintenance. You’ll also be responsible for finding your own trucking assignments.
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