Trucks and truck drivers are a constant presence on US highways and interstates. A person on even the shortest drive is likely to pass by a truck or two transporting goods, and even merchandise that travels by ship, train, or airplane travels on a truck for some phase of the journey to the customer. Because trucks are such a major part of industry, truck driving jobs are important positions and good paying jobs.
Truck drivers have many responsibilities. Before leaving the terminal or warehouse, truck drivers make routine checks of their vehicles, checking fuel and oil levels. They inspect the tires, brakes, and windshield wipers, and make sure that all safety equipment is loaded and functional. They report any problems to the dispatcher, who keeps track of all of these small details. Once they start driving, truck drivers must be constantly alert. They can see quite a long distance along the highway because they sit higher than most other vehicles. This puts them in a position of power on the road, as well as heightened responsibility.
Delivery requirements vary according to the type of merchandise, the driving assignment, and the final destination. Local drivers provide daily service along a specific route, while other drivers must make intercity and interstate deliveries based on specific orders. The driver’s responsibilities and salary change based on the time spent on the road, the type of product transported, and vehicle size.
New technologies are revolutionizing the way that truck drivers work. Long distance truck drivers now have satellites and global positioning systems (GPS) to link them with company headquarters. Information, directions, and weather reports can be delivered to the truck instantly no matter where it is. Company headquarters can track the truck’s location, fuel consumption, and engine performance. Inventory tracking equipment is now computerized, allowing the producer, warehouse, and customer to all check in on the products on the road. New technology is making truck driving an easier job, as seats become more comfortable, trucks have better ventilation, and cabs are better designed.
Some routes are very, very long, and these usually employ heavy truck or tractor-trailer drivers. On the longest routes, companies will hire two drivers for sleeper runs. Sleeper runs can last from days to weeks and the truck only stops for fuel, food, loading and unloading. The drivers switch off driving and sleeping in the truck.
Truck driving can be a demanding job. Some self-employed long-distance truck drivers who own and operate their own trucks spend most of the year away from home. The government restricts long distance drivers to no more than 60 hours a week as well as requiring 10 hours rest for every 11 hours driving. Many drivers work very close to this max time permitted because they are compensated according to the number of miles or hours they’ve put in. The difficulty of truck driving is well compensated, which makes it a popular job. In 2002, there were 3.2 million truck drivers.
Many trucking operations have higher standards than the Federal minimum requirements. Drivers are often required to be at least 22 years old, able to lift heavy objects, and have 3-5 years driving experience. Companies want to hire good drivers who work efficiently and cost less to insure. They like drivers who have enrolled in driver-training courses. New drivers might begin on small straight trucks and graduate to larger trucks and finally to tractor-trailers. A few truck drivers advance high enough to become dispatchers, managers, or traffic workers.
Heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers earned an average of $16 per hour in 2002. The highest 10% of this group earned more than $24 an hour. Driving a truck is a great career with lots of room for promotion and advancement. After moving all the way up the chain of promotion within a company, truck drivers often strike out on their own and open successful transport businesses.